After her sons drowned in 2008, Mary Shea Pitcher faced two options: “I wanted to lie on their graves and die,” she said. “Or I could get involved with something.”
She chose the second option, which became an emotional, six-year odyssey that replicated the course one would take on the skateboard park just completed in Carnegie in honor of her sons, Vincent, 21, and Stephen, 19. The men, who died in a drowning accident in July 2008 in the Allegheny National Forest, were avid skateboarders and BMXers.
Her efforts had good runs and spins, but plenty of crashes, especially with the failure of her effort to have a skateboard park built in her hometown of Dormont.
But the personal tragedy came full spin Monday with a community celebration featuring Tony Hawk, a world-famous skateboarder and video-game creator, who dedicated Pitcher Park Memorial Skatepark in Carnegie — a 17,000-square-foot concrete extravaganza, sure to become a skateboarding mecca, that sits inside Carnegie Park at Cooks Lane and Forsythe Road.
It’s one of a kind in this region, Ms. Pitcher said, with a street course of ramps, rails and granite-topped benches, and a deep, swimming-pool-like bowl with sloping sides that features a full pipe in the middle.
The park was designed and constructed by Grindline Skateparks of Seattle at a cost of $600,000 that Ms. Pitcher and her team collected from fundraising events and various grants, including a $10,000 grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation and a larger grant from the Ken & Carol Schultz Foundation.
With more than 1,000 people in attendance late Monday afternoon, and obvious excitement from children with their own skateboards, Ms. Pitcher could only respond with exclamations about the outcome of her teams’ efforts.
“Amazing,” she said. “It’s just amazing. But I don’t like this much fanfare. I liked it better the other night when we were sitting by the bowl and watching the sunset.
”But this is overwhelming. It went from being a hillside to a hole in the ground, then the bowl, then the full pipe and street section with granite on it. Amazing.”
Rick Karabasz, 27, of Dormont, one her sons’ friends, had a different take: “Six years ago, it seemed like a pipe dream,” he said. “Now it literally is a pipe dream — a full pipe.”
Mr. Hawk, a one-time professional skateboarder and first to perform a 21/2 spin known as a 900 in 1999, and creator of a series of popular video games among other ventures, promotes skateboarding with his foundation that helps fund park construction. Nicknamed Birdman, he arrived with his Birdhouse team of six skaters to inaugurate Pitcher Park.
They performed stunts that are equal parts exhilarating and dangerous, with Mr. Hawk doing a one-armed hand-stand at the top of the bowl and other maneuvers that drew crowd reactions. But he also took regular spills — all part of the sport — requiring slides down the slopes on his knee pads with him sometimes emerging from bowl bottom while shaking pain from brush-burned hands.
“It’s state of the art,” he said of the park. “It’s well designed, well-built and well-suited for any level of skateboarding. It’s the perfect example of things to come in skateboarding.”
Kevin Staab, a member of professional skateboarder Tony Hawk's Birdhouse Skateboards team, rides in a demonstration at Pitcher Park Memorial Skatepark in Carnegie on Monday. (Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette/Post-Gazette)
Even U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, was present to show support for construction of such parks, which draw children and adults who otherwise might face trespassing citations for skateboarding at schools, in the streets or on private property.
“You’ve heard the old commercial, ’It’s 10 o’clock — do you know where your children are?’ Well, they’ll be here,” Mr. Murphy said. “The excitement here is palpable. I’d rather know where my children are, and this is a place where they can come to exercise and burn off calories.”
The skateboard park will open officially in September. Some municipalities have fought against such parks because skateboarders can be a free-spirited lot, along with the cost of insurance due to the sport’s dangers. But Carnegie Borough manager Stephen Beuter said the idea was embraced by borough officials. It will be open dawn to dusk, with the borough providing some maintenance and security.
It’s also expected to draw skateboarders from throughout the region and from nearby states, making it a tourist draw.
“I think it’s going to be a feature not only for our park but for the South Hills area,” Mr. Beuter said.
Ms. Pitcher said Mt. Lebanon, Scott and Carnegie all showed interest in having the park established in their municipalities after the project failed to get approval in Dormont.
After taking two weeks off following her success in Carnegie, she said she will begin work to have other skateboard parks built in her sons’ memory.
“What began as an idea, stemming from a terrible tragedy, Pitcher Park has turned into one of the most positive and rewarding experiences of my life,” Ms. Pitcher said. “People who knew my sons and complete strangers came together and worked hard toward a common goal for the children.”
David Templeton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1578.