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X-Games grow as an alternative

| Monday, Aug. 19, 2002

Though your local sports pages, call-in talks shows and all-night game day commentators will ignore this week's events, Mike Piscowicz won't.

The 22-year-old Piscowicz and several friends were sitting around the fountain at Point State Park recently, discussing the biggest event of the skateboarding year — the launch of the annual X-Games tournament in Philadelphia.

Piscowicz, an art student and avid skateboarder — his arms and knees are lined with scabs and scars from boarding mishaps — is so focused on the international extreme sports tournament, he's giving up several precious summer days of skating to watch the action on TV.

That's a big commitment for a group of guys who spend just about every available waking hour looking for something, anything to jump their battered wooden decks (that's skater lingo for board) over.

"I'm not into football or baseball or any of that corporate sports crap so this is pretty much it," said skater Clark Balch, 19 of Plum. That Balch didn't go out for any of the varsity teams in high school doesn't mean he's not a jock: it's just that traditional organized sports, with their "corny pep rallies, loud-mouthed coaches and too many rules" don't appeal to guys who'd rather compete on their own terms.

Extreme sports aficionados, with their day-glo hair and baggy clothes, may not force the Steelers from the front page, but the genre is certainly booming. The X-Games expects to draw its 6-millionth attendee this week, and the broadcast should reach some 13 million homes.

In the eight years on ESPN, the long roster of newfangled sports, from flying motocross jumps to street luge —which resembles people strapped to runaway mechanic's doilies — have spawned their own stars and lingo. The result is a whole generation of kids who've grown up with little or no interest in baseball, basketball, football or other traditional sports, and for good reason.

Here, you don't have to be tall, strong, muscular, fast, genetically gifted or on steroids to compete — just willing to play.

And with major events like the Olympics now being run by the same sort of thugs who once ran professional boxing, it's no wonder the kids have decided to launch their own competitions.

But, if alternative sports truly are growing in popularity, why doesn't your kid's high school offer Sick Vert In-Line Skating alongside, say, wrestling?

Balch and Piscowicz have their own ideas. "There's no coaches in (extreme sports), nobody telling us how to do things, so that won't work at school. And this isn't abut worshipping some huge jock just because he's got a thick neck and likes to hit people," said Balch.

"They ignore us because we can't make them any money. Once they figure a way to milk some cash out of boarding, you can bet we're gonna be on TV all week," said Piscowicz who traveled to Philly to watch last year's X-Games in person.

With Major League Baseball mired in drug scandals and nearing another unnecessary strike and the NFL a predictable routine where the best-financed teams always win, it's almost a relief to see grass-roots athletes taking control of sports again. Who knows, in a few years, maybe corporate money will turn the X-Games into just another over-hyped, self-reverential sporting event.

But in the meantime, the X-Games is about the best game in town.

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