Skaters Feel Welcomed At Family-Friendly Mantis Skate Park

Mantis Skate Park has had its ups and downs in the two decades since it opened, but for those who use it and supervise it, it’s not only one of the best skate parks in the area, it’s a family friendly place to have fun and get to know others.
Opening day for the 2016 season was Saturday.
“The first time I ever showed up here, everybody was nice. They’re still your skaters, but they didn’t care you were new or that you didn’t know much. So I’ve always tried to treat people that same way,” John Lowe III said. He’s gone to other skate parks where, if you were new, the other skaters looked down on you and didn’t treat you well, but that’s not been the case at Mantis.
Lowe has been in-line skating 21 years and skating at Mantis for 20. He also has taught in-line skating at the park in previous years.
“New guys (here) don’t feel like they’re in the way. They’re welcomed,” Lowe said.
The first time Brendan Crisman ever skateboarded was at Mantis, and now he’s not only been skateboarding for 13 years, but is one of the best at Mantis.
“This is where I’ve started so it’s nice to come back. I know everyone,” Crisman said, noting that he and Lowe have watched the park develop over the years. “I’ve always enjoyed it here. Even if I can’t skate, I come and just sit. I broke my ankle years back and I literally came and sat the whole summer, even though I couldn’t skate. It’s just a nice way to hang out. We’re pretty much all friends here. We pretty much all know each other.”
“This is our version of Starbucks,” Lowe said.
“And that’s why I like to work here – because of the people that come here. It’s exciting,” Skate Park Supervisor Stephanie Schaefer said. This will be Schaefer’s 10th summer at the park.
The skate park has been around for about 24 years, but the city took it over in 1995. It was remodeled in 2008 with a grant from the K21 Foundation, according to City of Warsaw Parks & Recreation Department Recreation Director Sheila Wieringa. Schaefer said new ramps were put in then and the grind rails were updated.
As for attendance, Schaefer said, “It varies from year to year. It varies with weather. Some years we have cold, rainy seasons and some years we have really hot seasons. You never know going into it what it’s going to look like.”
Looking back at previous years, Schaefer said she knows the park’s busiest opening numbers were 24 skaters a day. “It was really a lot from the time we opened to the time we closed,” she said. Last summer was a slower year, averaging about eight to 12 skaters a day.
The park has had skaters as young as 3 or 4 years old, especially if their parents were involved in the park when they were younger.
“They know it’s a family friendly park and they like that,” Schaefer said. “Do most of those kids continue skating? Not necessarily. Some kids are afraid of it and their parents have them try it.”
She said they’ve also had skaters as old as 50. “That’s very rare. The most age groups we see on average, I would say, would be about 13 to 18. The ones we consider pro-skaters, we have about four or five of them, that are in their early 20s. But I would say middle school age is probably our best group,” she said.
Skaters who hit 16 and get to high school and have jobs don’t get to skate as often if the park isn’t open on their days off.
Groups of teenagers will carpool to the skate park. Parents – who know the park and its staff – will drop off their kids at Mantis for short periods of time.
“We encourage parents to come out and watch their kids. The kids that come out here love showing their parents what they’ve learned,” Schaefer stated.
Only skateboards and in-line skates are allowed in the park because the ramps are not made to handle anything else.
Helmets are required and provided. Schaefer said they have 17 different-sized helmets skaters can borrow while at the park this year and which are available first-come, first serve.
Park supervisors have a book to keep track of the skaters so they know who is there and how many visitors are coming each day. On their first day, skaters and/or their parents must fill out a waiver.
Mantis is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 4 to 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. Once school is out, the hours will change. Summer hours, from June 10 to July 31, will be 2 to 8 p.m. Monday through Sunday.
“We’ve added some special programs out here this summer,” Schaefer said. “We’re going to have a Game of Skate, we’re going to have a Late Skate Pizza Party, we have two competitions, and then we are going to do a monthly prize for the skater that has the most visits for that month.”
The Late Skate Pizza Party will be 8 to 10 p.m. July 15.
The Game of Skate will be an opportunity for skaters to win prizes. It is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. May 27.
The Big Trick Contest is at 1 p.m. June 25, with the 2016 Skate Competition beginning at 9 a.m. Aug. 6.
Parents of the older kids will come out and watch on competition days, she said, so she likes to make that a big day for the skaters.
“I work really hard to get sponsorships for prizes for them. I just feel like that’s a great reward after skating an entire summer here,” Schaefer said.
Annual sign sponsors are Goodwill Industries of Michiana, Jansen Orthopaedic, Indiana American Water, RR Donnelley. Wieringa said many sponsors have given skate supplies, gift cards and in-kind donations for competition prizes.
Supervising the park this year will be Schaefer and Tami Miller, who will staff it all the hours it’s open. Many times the two women will be out at the park together, such as at competitions or the late skates. They supervise, tend to anyone who is injured, take and check paperwork and talk to the kids who come over, encouraging them to try skating.
On a typical, busy day at the park, Schaefer said, “There is a lot of action, that is for sure. The kids kind of skate as groups together.”
The older, more experienced skaters are asked to help the kids out. “They are great at doing that. That’s what I love about this park is that all of the skaters work together really well. The kids that have been coming out here for years, they help kids put skateboards together. They will help fix the skateboards if something happens. They will kind of guide them, show them which ramps to use to start out on. It’s a great atmosphere. I, obviously, really like my job a lot,” Schaefer said.
Crisman said when Mantis Skate Park is closed, skaters will find other places to ride, and there are a few places that will allow it.
“I love having this place to come to. I’d choose this place over skating in the street any time,” Crisman said.
“This park is comparable to the ones around us – Pierceton’s, Plymouth’s, even Goshen’s – this park is done so much better: Layout, quality of ramps, the way it’s been maintained,” Lowe said.
Crisman stated, “I think it’s because everyone who comes here cares about it.”