When Ryan Selasky was a kid learning to skateboard, he was pretty much on his own. He learned through trial and error on sidewalks and parking lots.
Now 35, Selasky skates with his son, Kaden, at well-maintained skateparks across the valley. And his son gets professional instruction from a skateboarding veteran who's part of a program that brings skateboarders and fans to Las Vegas from all over, but quite possibly not for much longer.
Las Vegas' Office of Xtreme Sports -- best known for putting together the Vegas AmJam, a BMX bike and skateboarding competition that features 1,500 participants and thousands of spectators each year -- is on the budget chopping block as the city of Las Vegas looks to make ends meet in a down economy.
The Las Vegas City Council put it there Wednesday when approving a tentative budget for next year. Council members were responding to an outcry over the proposed closing of the Reed Whipple Cultural Center, which is home to the Las Vegas Youth Orchestra and the Rainbow Youth Theater Company.
It's a bad move, said Selasky, since the city will be losing a popular program to save $188,000, which pays for the two employees who run it.
"It doesn't make sense that they're cutting two employees who serve so many kids," he said. "I don't think they understand the scale of what goes on here."
There are nine skate parks in the city of Las Vegas and more than 20 across the valley. The Tony Hawk Foundation, started by skateboarding's most visible star, has rewarded the area's investment in the sport by raising $80,000 to expand the skateboarding facility at the recently redone Freedom Park in Las Vegas.
In fact, the foundation singled out the Las Vegas area as a leader in the sport.
Las Vegas is "a prime example of how to properly accommodate the large and growing population of skaters that most towns are experiencing," wrote Miki Vuckovich, director of Tony Hawk's foundation, in a Feb. 26 letter to Mayor Oscar Goodman.
"You lead the nation in providing access to safe, sanctioned places to skate ... with more than 17,000 skateboarders in Las Vegas, it's reassuring to know that they have a wide selection of safe places to ride."
It's ironic that the donation may turn out to be the program's swan song, said Joe Wichert, who coordinates the 8-year-old extreme sports program.
The parks would remain open but the competition and classes offered in Las Vegas would be discontinued.
"I understand that the city is under financial strain and cuts must be made," Wichert said. "But if we go, this is it. No baseball league or football league is going to take this over. We built this up so much, and it's a shame to see it go."
At Wednesday's council meeting, Councilman Ricki Barlow said money to save Reed Whipple and a couple of other programs should come from the extreme sports program because a phone survey of residents showed 3 percent of respondents participating in extreme sports. The survey question was about adult participation in various programming.
City Manager Betsy Fretwell had recommended that the extreme sports program be retained and that money for the restored cuts should come from a pool of vacant positions the city is maintaining in case it needs emergency hires.
Kids learn more than just skateboarding or BMX biking, said John "Gator" Kemp, an instructor and former professional skater who co-owns his own skate shop.
"There are so many different walks of kids who would never speak to each other -- for some reason, skating brings them together," Kemp said. "That's more than just skating. That's life relations."
Some AmJam events take place at Clark County or privately owned venues, and those are still on the schedule, said Brian Seliba, who's in charge of special events and marketing for the Clark County parks and recreation department.
He called the program "wildly successful."
"There's a lot of attention we're able to generate because of Vegas AmJam," he said. "I think it's going to impact a pretty significant percentage of youth who are active in sports."
Las Vegas has a competition scheduled later this month and hopefully will be able to show off the new Freedom Park skateboarding area in June.
Supporters are still hoping to change the City Council's mind. Until then, Wichert said, "We're dedicated to doing the best we can until they pull the plug."
Contact Review-Journal reporter Alan Choate at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-229-6435.