When the St. Mary's County Board of Commissioners conducted a public forum on youth-related issues earlier this month, it was almost like a visit to Santa at the mall when about 100 youngsters came to tell officials what they wanted from the county.
Teenagers wanted the county to open up a bar for the 18-and-under set -- alcohol-free, of course. A team of basketball players told the commissioners how their program has kept them out of trouble and that they needed more money for field trips. Others wanted a community pool, and a high school graduate said the county needs more public transportation for students so they can participate in after-school activities.
County Board of Commissioners President Julie B. Randall (D-At Large) said that the school system looked into expanding public transportation for students when she was on the school board and that she thought the matter warranted further consideration.
One group offered to help pay for the cost of their recommendation. Skaters and skateboarders repeated an often-heard complaint: There is no place for skating in St. Mary's County.
But instead of pleading with county officials for funds, the skaters said they're taking matters into their own hands: They told the commissioners they will put on concerts with local high school bands to begin raising funds for a skate park.
"If you help us, we'll do what's necessary to do the fund-raising," said John Sexton, 17. The Great Mills High School student is a skater and a drummer for a rock band called Lost Cause.
Sexton, his fellow band members and the owners of LP City Music, a CD and skateboard shop at St. Mary's Square in Lexington Park, are hoping to put on a benefit concert in November with Lost Cause and about nine other high school bands. Proceeds from the concert will go toward the skate park fund.
The youngsters also are circulating a petition in favor of a park and have collected more than 100 signatures from supporters.
"Because skateboarding is not a mainstream sport, people don't think there's a need," said Mickey Ramos, co-owner of LP City Music.
"But there's a big need for a skate park," he said. "It would be no different than baseball players not having a field to play on."
Ramos owned a skateboard shop at Wildewood Shopping Center in the mid-1970s, and he knows all too well the difficulty youngsters have finding a place to skate in the county.
"The only place they could skate was the shopping center, and sometimes they were rudely run out of shopping centers," he said.
As the the owner of a skate shop, Ramos "took some heat, too," he said.
Early this summer, the county commissioners scrapped a proposal to spend $75,000 on a skate park, disappointing Sexton and dozens of skaters and their parents, as well as residents who don't want skaters on neighborhood streets.
John Sprenger, the parent of two skateboarders and a skate park advocate, is helping youngsters organize the benefit concert. "I thought it would be a good opportunity to force the issue. But this will depend on how many skaters we get involved," he said.
The youngsters tried to impress upon the county commissioners that skateboarding is not just a passing fad for them. "This has become my life for the past four years," said Ian Weaver, 16, a student at Great Mills High School, as he held up his skateboard during the public forum.
Weaver, also a member of Lost Cause, and others have been telling their skating woes to LP City Music co-owner Don Emerson since he opened the store a year ago.
"I knew the county had cut the funding for the park, and I started talking to the kids," Emerson said. His own two boys are skaters, too, and he had heard similar stories from them.
Since April, local high school bands have performed three concerts in the parking lot at Emerson's store.
"Kids turned out for that, and they said the same thing: There's nothing for us to do," Emerson said.
Organizers of the benefit concert plan to keep the admission charge low to boost attendance at the show so they can pay for hall rental and sound equipment and still turn over profits to the county's Department of Recreation and Parks for the skate park fund, Emerson said.
"I think it shows that the kids are serious about this idea and are willing to do something to make it happen," Emerson said.
"Obviously it helps my business, but being a parent, I want my kids to have something to do besides run around on the streets," he said.
Sexton and Weaver said they are working to line up the bands for the November concert and trying to motivate skaters to participate.
"I think [county officials] are seeing kids are interested in the political process. I know that sounds kinda corny," Emerson said. "But I like how the kids are real involved. They're doing it the right way."
CAPTION: Skateboarding teens like Adam Rutherford, above, say they'll help raise funds for a county skate park.