SKATEBOARDS ON THE SKIDS
It wasn't too long ago that skateboarding was all the rage in this country, causing apprehension among parents over their children's safety. As things turned out, some of the worst lacerations and contusions were suffered by the skateboarding industry itself. In 1977 there were an estimated 200 skateboard parks in the U.S., but that number has since dwindled to around 70. Meanwhile, skateboard manufacturers have fallen on hard times; some have gone out of business, while sales of firms like Grentec Co. of Burbank, Calif. are running 80% behind last year's totals.
Skateboarding's losses have plainly been roller skating's gain. David Snaith, a consultant to the industry, claims that skateboarding has suffered from being too "macho." "Few young ladies got involved," he says. "Not too many older people were interested. Roller skating is different—it can be a total family thing." Bill Arnett, associate publisher of the Los Angeles-based Skate Industry News, adds that skateboarding also was too specialized even for some boys. "Kids watched those superhuman feats being performed and they couldn't emulate them," he says. Arnett's publication used to be called Skateboard Industry News but changed its name after expanding its coverage to include roller skating.
Some of skateboarding's woes were caused by overexpansion. Skateboard parks often were hurriedly and inadequately designed, and were burdened by high insurance costs. Skateboarding might have better weathered these problems had it become a full-fledged sport. This didn't happen, partly because leading manufacturers were too busy feuding among themselves.
A skateboarding boom of sorts is continuing in South Africa and parts of Europe, raising hopes that a recovery in the U.S. might yet be possible. "We feel our business won't completely die and will eventually come back," says Bob Austin, national sales manager of Hobie's Skateboards, one of the surviving manufacturers. In the meantime, sales of Hobie's skateboards are off by more than 50%, and the firm has shifted much of its production to roller skates.
REINING IN THE FIXERS
After five jockeys and two trainers were convicted in New Jersey last December of fixing horse races at Garden State Park (two other defendants pleaded guilty), action in the burgeoning bribery scandal shifted to Boston, where 21 men were indicted in February on similar charges. Jockey Guy Contrada and six others have since pleaded guilty, four are fugitives, one has been granted a separate trial, and charges against another defendant were dropped. That left eight men to stand trial in U.S. District Court. Last week a jury found seven of them guilty. Jockey Norman Mercier was acquitted.
As in the New Jersey case, the government's key witness was Anthony Ciulla (SI, Nov. 6, 1978), the convicted race fixer whose account of widespread racetrack corruption also resulted in the indictment last year of eight men in Detroit and was the basis of an investigation in Pennsylvania that culminated last week in the indictment of 21 others. Authorities are continuing to investigate Ciulla's charges that he also fixed races in New York—and that major organized-crime figures were involved.
Those convicted in Boston included Howard T. Winter, who was already serving an 18-to-20 year sentence for extortion and is described by federal officials as an organized-crime boss. U.S. Attorney Edward F. Harrington hailed the convictions as the most significant victory over organized crime in Boston in a decade. Yet Harrington expressed alarm over what he called inaction by state racing officials. Citing testimony that jockeys had accepted bribes "with enthusiastic alacrity," Harrington said, "What are stewards doing? If the investigative machinery is not there, it should be set up."
Thomas Lynch, secretary of the Massachusetts Racing Commission, replied that when it comes to investigating wrongdoing, the Federal Government "has many more tools than we have." Clearly it's high time state racing officials—in Massachusetts and elsewhere—acquired adequate tools. One of the jockeys who pleaded guilty to fixing races in New Jersey, J. P. Verrone, declared months ago that Ciulla had an "army" of riders participating in fixes.