Coming home one day last week from a round of errands, Tom and Pat Corbett turned into their quiet and woodsy corner of the Wildewood subdivision to find a dozen teenagers popping Ollies, grinding rails and flying aerials -- the noisy and dazzling maneuvers of skateboarders.
The Corbetts were not impressed.
"What is all this about?" asked an irritated Pat Corbett, confronting some of the skaters' parents who stood nearby on a lawn. "I'm not against skateboarding. I'm against having it here. Listen, try pulling in and out of here with all this."
Sycamore Lane, a short, blacktopped street lined with tall trees and upscale single-family homes, is the picture-perfect image of suburban life in St. Mary's County. But lately it has become the scene of a turf battle between residents such as the Corbetts and teenagers wearing the hip, loose-fitting clothes that are the style of their sport and clamoring for a place anywhere in the county where they can skate in peace.
"They [residents opposed to skateboarding] tell people we're rude and we cuss them out. But they're the ones calling us names and using bad language. They yell at us for just being around," said Robby Tourtelot, 14, an eighth-grader who was practicing lofting jumps called "airs" on a homemade, double-sided ramp called "The Spine."
Robby and other skaters said they are routinely ejected from empty parking lots in their own subdivision, yelled at by residents who fear skateboarders, and dispersed from shopping centers by police and security guards.
"We have no place to go, no place at all," lamented Adam Rutherford, 14, who had pleaded the skateboarders' case before the local homeowners' association.
Until last week, it looked as though there would be a place for Adam and his friends, and peace in Sycamore Hollow, an enclave of about two dozen houses inside Wildewood, with the prospect of $75,000 from county government to build a skating park within Chancellor's Run Park. But the county commissioners scrapped that idea last week during their final budget review, voting 3 to 2 to postpone a funding decision until next year.
"I was disappointed in the way the vote came out," said John Sprenger, the father of two skateboarding sons. Sprenger is one of a small group of parents advocating a skateboarding facility.
"It would have been great to have a legal place for the kids. Now we'll have to continue dealing with this situation," Sprenger said, while he listened with one ear to Pat Corbett's objections.
The need for a county skating park is one thing on which opponents and supporters of skateboarding have found common ground. "I think the county should do something about it," said Mary DiToto, another resident of Sycamore Hollow. "The boys need a place to go. But they shouldn't be in neighborhoods where they disturb people."
County Board of Commissioners President Julie B. Randall (D-At Large) said she was aware of the problems in Sycamore Hollow, and the teenagers' effort to secure a place in a county park where they can skate all they want.
"If we're not providing anything, they'll find somewhere to skate, and it's going to present some issues with neighbors," said Randall, who, along with Commissioner Joseph F. Anderson (D-Drayden), supported a skating park.
"That's another reason it would be nice if we can provide the area for them," Randall said. "We've got a fairly good population of kids that participate in this sport, in areas that are less than desirable."
The prospect of a skating park seemed promising when the county first proposed including it at Willows Park, a new park site in Lexington Park on land that the Navy is leasing to the county. But that proposal stalled when the Navy raised questions about the appropriateness of a skating park there.
Skaters, their parents and other supporters, including members of the county Recreation and Parks Advisory Board, lobbied parks officials and the county commissioners to include funding for a park in the new budget.
Sprenger said the biggest issue has been liability and the cost of insurance at such a park, which would include ramps and other facilities for skateboarders' acrobatics, as well as paved paths for in-line skaters.
"I'm just not so sure, with the other things we've got facing us -- roads, schools, parks -- that the county at this point in time should commit to that kind of expenditure," said County Commissioner Daniel H. Raley (D-Great Mills), one of three commissioners who voted not to fund the skating park.
"The majority of the board did not feel at the present that they had sufficient data to justify that expenditure," Raley said.
Sprenger and other parents conceded that there are no easily available statistics on how many skaters might use such a park in St. Mary's County. But Sprenger likes to point out that in Ridgely, a town of about 1,000 residents on the Eastern Shore, a public skating park routinely draws 300 registered skaters.
"Why can't we do something for these kids here?" asked parent Andy Rutherford.
The popularity of skating -- whether on skateboards or in-line skates -- has been gaining ground in St. Mary's for the past two years, mostly among the very young. Students gather after school, skating where they can: on empty parking lots, on empty roads, at shopping centers and most recently on neighborhood streets.
In Wildewood, things came to a head last fall when parents of skaters and some residents engaged in shouting matches. In several instances, police were called, said Dave Gleisner, president of the Sycamore Hollow Homeowners Association.
"We had numerous complaints," Gleisner said. "They [skaters] would put up large ramps so they blocked egress and ingress; they attracted large crowds of very noisy kids who talked very loudly and rudely, treating older folks and younger folks rudely; there was littering."
After a meeting, the association banned all skating equipment -- ramps and rails -- from the street and invoked a nuisance clause in the association's bylaws to prohibit the congregation of large groups of skateboarders.
"We're just trying to stay out of trouble, and they won't let us," said Sally Bacon, 15, the only girl at one recent gathering at Sycamore Hollow. "I think they're just stereotyping us."
Sprenger believes that the strong feelings skateboarding has generated in Sycamore Hollow stems in part from the negative view of skateboarders as "hoodlums or whatnot."
"In other words, if they're at a shopping center, or going on curbs and sidewalks, going down railings at public buildings, that's what gives people a negative perception," Sprenger said.
Sprenger still hopes that St. Mary's County government will invest in a skating park, if only to have people see "what kids can do with a pair of skateboards, and maybe they'll come away with a little more respect for the kids' athletic abilities."
CAPTION: Skating Track Up in Air: A dam Rutherford, 14, goes airborne in a St. Mary's neighborhood where skateboarders and residents have clashed. Both groups would like the county to establish a skating park for youths, but commissioners have postponed funding.
CAPTION: Youngsters with skateboards in the Wildewood subdivision of St. Mary's County get ready to test their skills on a course made up of cones and homemade wooden ramps.
CAPTION: John Sprenger, 12, whose father is pushing for a county-funded skating park, performs a maneuver on a homemade ramp set up on a neighborhood street.