Paved ParadiseJack Reese

A public skatepark awaits city and county approval Knoxville needs more like him Seven Days

 

City and county officials hesitate to say the skatepark is a done deal, as the proposal has yet to be approved by city council and county commission. However, Beauchene and others are encouraged by city council supporters like Chris Woodhull and Marilyn Roddy, and by the enthusiasm of Walsh, the city's parks director.

 

When skateboarder Brian Beauchene can't convince Knoxville police officers that he's skateboarding in a designated area, he produces a laminated card from his back pocket. Printed on the card is section 17-51 of the Knoxville Traffic Ordinance, under the subject head "Use of coasters, roller skates and similar devices." He then flips the card over to point out a tiny map. With his finger, he outlines the boundaries where skateboarders may practice their sport outside the heart of downtown. The ordinance reads that it's illegal to skate on any roadway, except on crosswalks, and that no one can skateboard in downtown's Central Business District.

Through 30 years of skateboarding, Beauchene's avoided ever receiving a $75 ticket, as many of his younger peers have, and he's sent many a cop back to his cruiser murmuring a sheepish apology. He believes in being informed, he says. Beauchene, who owns Pluto Sports, a small skateboard and disc golf shop located behind Walgreen's on the Strip, has networked and talked for years with city officials, parents and skateboarders—amateur and experienced alike—about constructing a public skatepark in Knoxville.

"We'd like to see it built for many reasons," Beauchene says. "We need a place for skateboarders to hone their skills, and primarily we need a place that's safe. Skateparks are much safer than streets or rickety ramps."

A number of private skatepark ventures—like Axis and City Streets—have fallen through over the past 10 years due to poor management, he says.

City Mayor Bill Haslam's April 28 presentation of the 2005-2006 budget included the appropriation of some city land, as well as $200,000 towards a skatepark. County Mayor Mike Ragsdale matched that $200,000 and raised the city $50,000, says Knox County Parks and Recreation Director Doug Bataille. 

In his speech, Haslam said, "I can't tell you how many kids have asked me when we're going to build a skate park." The website www.knoxvilleskatepark.com has served as a unifier for skateboarders and their parents, says Beauchene. The site contained links to the e-mail address of both mayors, filling their boxes with countless e-mails pleading for a public skatepark.

Beauchene says that during Victor Ashe's 16 years as mayor, he never took the possibility of a skatepark seriously, being a believer in traditional team sports. City Parks Director Joe Walsh also says the addition of some new city council members "who are more receptive to the idea" has opened doors for the skatepark.

In his public address, Haslam further said, "I'm happy to tell you that the time [for a skatepark] is now . I'll be there for the grand opening next year, but don't expect me to get on that ramp on a skateboard."

There's been talk of placing the skatepark in Tyson Park, which is "on top of the list right now," says Bataille. But Woodhull and Beauchene both favor the idea of building it in Caswell Park. Wherever the location, officials say it must be on a bus line and a greenway trail.

City and county officials hesitate to say the skatepark is a done deal, as the proposal has yet to be approved by city council and county commission. However, Beauchene and others are encouraged by city council supporters like Chris Woodhull and Marilyn Roddy, and by the enthusiasm of Walsh, the city's parks director.

"I think it's past due," says Walsh, "and a lot of people are really excited about it. Once it's completed I think we'll see some great participation. It's going to solve some problems; there's some hard feelings out there about skaters...but having a legitimate place to go and practice their sport will go a long way towards healing some of those old wounds."

Indeed, many business owners nurse hard feelings about skateboarders who beat up their railings and stairways.

"You can't blame the kids or the businesses because they don't want their property destroyed," says Bataille.

Some citizens wish that a bike park might be included in the blueprints for the skatepark, as BMX biking is even more damaging to property. Shawn McCann, an employee at Harper's Bike Shop, says bikers "are in the same situation as skateboarders . If they get seen, the cops pull them over immediately and harass them, because frankly, the bikes are somewhat destructive. It mars up concrete and scratches up rails."

Beauchene isn't opposed to the dual proposal, but thinks that separate hours for BMX bikers might prevent "some traffic problems."

If and when the skatepark is approved, a committee will form to discuss the ins-and-outs of the skatepark—whether or not there will be supervision, a helmet rule or a small admission fee.

Beauchene envisions a board that includes young and experienced skaters, as well as parents. "Because it really has to work for everyone," he says. "Parents have to have it safe so that they feel good dropping their kids off, kids want challenge and coolness, and experienced skaters have been to a lot of skateparks, and they know what works and what doesn't."

If all goes as planned, Bataille says a committee will be assembled beginning July 1.

"If we're skating next summer, we'll be real happy," says Beauchene, though he believes no one ought to be as happy as the Knoxville Police Department.

"I suspect KPD will be one of the biggest fans of the skatepark," he says. "They'll no longer have to answer so many calls about kids skateboarding in the Kroger parking lot ." And just maybe, he can keep that laminated card tucked snugly in his pocket.

We've regretted not seeing him around much lately, eating breakfast at Long's Drugstore, as if he were just some regular Joe, and it grieves us to hear that we won't ever see him again. He gave this city an intelligent dignity that we'll find harder to come by without him.

A tall, slender, well-dressed man with white hair and black-framed glasses, he seemed to add the air of legitimacy to whatever endeavor he chose to honor with his presence. Chief among them, the University of Tennessee, and the city of Knoxville.

Jack Reese, who died earlier this week at age 76, was that rarest of individuals, the poet-administrator. He was even more than that: he was a modern Renaissance Man, involved in developing high-technology opportunities for students, and even heading a solid-waste task force—"the only job," he quipped, "for which my previous training qualifies me."

He seemed like an aristocrat, and was better than most of them. But he was born a mechanic's son in Hendersonville, N.C. Because he couldn't afford anywhere else, he attended Berea College, the Kentucky school that allows its students to work their way through college. He had a notion of being a newspaperman, but developed an interest in English literature.

He later admitted that he visited Knoxville during that period, which was also Knoxville's mid-century Ugliest City in America period. "I'd say it was the last damned place on Earth I wanted to be," he thought at the time. He got a masters and then a Ph.D. in English from the University of Kentucky, and in 1961 was talked into joining his colleague Herman Spivey at the university down in Knoxville. He apparently liked it better than he was afraid he would.

He was first an English teacher, and just that. He developed a reputation as a rare authority on one 17th-century playwright, translator of Homer, and poet, named George Chapman. The reserved teacher seemed on track to enjoy a professor's ivory-tower obscurity, but fate had other plans.

Reese's more outgoing friend and colleague, Durant DaPonte, was Assistant Dean of the UT Graduate School, but was killed in a plane crash in 1964. The shy young English prof from North Carolina got the nod to replace him. It put Reese on a career path that eventually, and unexpectedly, brought him the chancellorship in 1973. He served in the role for 16 years, by far the longest any individual has been chancellor of UT.

During that period, Reese guidded UT through major changes, helped raise money to build the multi-million-dollar Hodges Library, shepherded the school from a quarterly to a semester system, tightened the university's admissions requirements, and nurtured links between UT and high-tech institutions, especially ORNL. Much of the Tennessee Technology Corridor along Pellissippi Parkway developed with Reese's help. Sometimes he was called upon to face aggressive reporters, especially concerning behavior of UT athletes. Reese's courtly responses were disarming.

Meanwhile, he wrote poetry, a fact many of his friends found out about only toward the end of his career. A modest man, he once dismissed his poems as "such harmless things."  Much of his verse concerned the never-quite-answered search for meaning, for purpose, for God: "Appalled by infinity.... Wanting to believe / To be clasped in ever-caring arms."

Reese retired in 1989 to return to teaching. Soon after, he graciously accepted an invitation to be president of the new Knoxville Writers Guild, bestowing it with instant respectability. He bridged the gap between scholarly speculation and common sense. Many recall him as civic-minded, humane, patient, thoughtful. He was an intelligent man with a gentle soul and great good sense, a rare combination. We need more of him, more poet-administrators. They're scarce.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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