Skate park would honor brothers

Grieving mother whose sons drowned raising money for Dormont facility

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There wasn't much Mary Pitcher wouldn't do for her four sons. When they played hockey at Keystone Oaks High School, she joined the club board and developed its Web site.

When someone needed a ride to BMX racing in South Park, she managed to get them there.

"Sometimes, I embarrassed my sons by always being around, but I didn't care," she said, laughing.

"I was a stay-at-home mom for about 10 years, and I'm so grateful now that I was."

It's been two months since her two youngest sons, Vince, 21, and Stephen, 19, accidentally drowned while on a camping trip in the Allegheny National Forest.

Both were always caught up in so-called "extreme" sports: biking, inline skating and especially skateboarding. So when Steve decided to jump from the top of the James Morrison Bridge, it was no doubt just another grab at a thrill in a young life filled with them.

He dropped about 75 feet into the water, and it was immediately clear he was in trouble. Vince, on shore, dived in after him. They struggled, finally slipping back under.

"The story is, they found them seven hours later, and the most significant thing was, they were still hugging each other," said Lauren Karabasz, a family friend who grew up near the Pitchers.

At the funeral, Mrs. Pitcher was met by two brothers, Collin and Cheech Sanders, who had attended St. Bernard Elementary School with her boys. The brothers had spent many days practicing on the wooden half-pipe in the back yard of the Sanders' home in Mt. Lebanon.

"The minute he walked in there and I hugged him, I said 'You know, Collin, we have to build a skate park,' and he said 'That would be awesome,' " said Mrs. Pitcher.

Skateboarding in public areas is a sore subject in many communities. Most ban the use of boards on sidewalks, in parking lots or down long stretches of concrete steps.

Miss Karabasz had to laugh when she considered how many times her brother, Ricky, and his friend, Vince, were reprimanded for skateboarding in public.

"They had been stopped many times by the police, thousands of times," said Miss Karabasz.

The idea of creating a skate park seemed a perfect way to honor the Pitchers' on-the-go sons.

"Having four boys, I learned that not everybody plays team sports. I had four very creative children and they needed a place to be individuals," said Mrs. Pitcher, who now lives in Scott and owns Antiques Exchange in Dormont.

She's done her homework, figuring it will eventually require around $250,000 to build an elaborate West Coast-style skate park in Dormont. The cost of hiring a professional designer will be around $6,000.

"I'm just sorry they're not here to see it happen," she said. "It would be spectacular for them to have a place like this."

A Web site -- www.pitcherpark.com -- details the proposed project. Mrs. Pitcher's group has approached the Dormont borough manager with tentative plans for perhaps constructing the facility on the Memorial Drive site of long-abandoned tennis courts.

Mrs. Pitcher said group members are exploring various fundraising opportunities. On a grand scale, they'll be sending a grant request to skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, whose foundation provides communities with up to $25,000 to establish skate parks.

"We're feverishly trying to get this in, but I want to do it right. I don't want it to be a rush job," Mrs. Pitcher said.

Last year, McDonald was awarded a Tony Hawk grant in the $10,000-$15,000 category.

Locally, two Pitcher Park events are planned in the coming weeks. First is a hair-cutting marathon at Hair Geometrics on Potomac Avenue. Cuts will be given for a $12 donation, and the Pizza Company is donating slices to be sold during the event from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"It's all a friendly thing," said owner Jenny Santorella. "In Dormont here, everybody knew these boys."

Joining her will be stylists Lyndsay Lewis-Ackaoui, Brittany DiPippa and Annie Hayes.

On Tuesday, the Dormont Veterans of Foreign Wars announced it will donate its community hall for a "spooktacular" costume event from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Oct. 24.

Vince had recently earned a degree from the Pittsburgh Technological Institute and was working at his first job, in computer-aided drafting. He'd just bought his first car, a Saab, and was living with his father, John, in Dormont.

"He was just figuring out what he wanted to do [in life]" said Miss Karabasz. "He loved his program at PTI."

In his honor, the school has agreed to help in the design and execution of the skate park.

Both men attended Keystone Oaks High School, and Steve was living with his mother in Scott. He was working full-time at a Rite Aid pharmacy and part-time as a valet at the Rhythm House in Bridgeville.

They were both big guys -- Vince, around 6-foot-3-inches, 225 pounds, his brother, 6-foot-3-inches, 165 pounds.

"I don't know how the heck the guys put those Size 13s on those skateboards," their mother said.

Two older brothers, Jonathan, 26, and Brady, 24, also are skateboard enthusiasts and are part of the fundraising for Pitcher Park.

"We're just trying to get the word out," said Miss Karabasz, 24. "I know it's going to be a long haul.

"A lot of people, especially those who don't have children, can't be bothered with a skate park,'' she said. "But these kids are the future of Dormont. I think it's great, what she [Mrs. Pitcher] is doing."


Maria Sciullo can be reached at msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.


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