Chip Sanders has been part of the Apalachicola Skate Park from before it was born.
When the city backed the project nearly a decade ago, at the corner of the former Apalachicola High School at 14th Street, Sanders was instrumental at raising funds to put in ramps and other features.
To help get the park off the ground, he and his friend Justin Brice Griffin organized Jama Fest, in honor of their friend Suryan Jama, a former Apalachicola High School runner who died young of a rare form of cancer.
They raised money through rockfest fundraisers at Harry A’s, and they encouraged a generation of kids to enjoy skateboarding at the facility.
“That was something me, Justin and others took pride in,” said Sanders. “He was dedicated to that park when nobody else was.”
And then, after Griffin died tragically in an automobile accident, Sanders worked closely with Griffin’s family, mom Becky Jones and stepfather Ronnie Jones, to have the park re-named in his friend’s honor, and so a large stone marker now proclaims the presence of the Justin B. Griffin Skate Park.
Sanders hasn’t given up the fight, not by a long shot, and last month, on Sunday, Feb. 20, he organized an all-day event at the park.
With the help of Apalachicola restaurateur Danny Itzkovitz, who had his brand new Tamara’s food truck on site along with an adjacent hot dog stand, the event was hopping all day.
Donna Crum, Samantha Jones and Marisa Getter worked the swag booth, and music was handled by Beano Simmons and Wayne Thomas, and there was plenty of volunteer help from Egg “Cert” Miller, and Betty Davis, who helped to mark the field and get everything set up.
By the time the day was over, Sanders and company had raised $5,000, and another $5,000 from a GoFundMe page, and another $20,000 from big-money donors, so they now have $30,000 to play with.
Sanders said he believes the money will make a difference in preserving and boosting the park, especially with the adjacent Denton Cove housing development getting ready to swing open its doors in the months to come.
“It needs an uplift,” he said. “We won’t spend all the money, but we will get the place fixed up and make it look like a park, not a train wreck.”
Sanders foresees doing some repairs, adding additional ramps, and getting rid of the old bleachers for something more accommodating for parents. “We can get benches out there for parents to come and go sit at,” he said. “We’re fixing to get that place looking good.”
The event featured some competition, including an “oyster box race” which Sanders would like to see become a part of the annual oyster cookoff.
Under the sponsorship of Water Street Seafood, the race featured a male version, in which runners carried a 30-pound box of oyster shells, and a female version, in which they toted a 20-pound box of shells, along the 35-yard-long course.
The female race was won by Reese Cargill, who covered the sprint in 6.6 seconds, just ahead of runner-up Stacy Cox, who had a time of 6.9 seconds; third-place finisher Haleigh Miller, who ran a 7.3-second time; and Faith Ward, who covered it in 7.5 seconds.
Among the males, Raymond Powers won a close race, in 4.7 seconds, to Coble Griffith’s 4.8-second finish. Tying for third were Fred Cargill and Trey Ross, both at 5.3 seconds. Erin Rodriguex ran it in 5.5 seconds and Jay Kannuck in 6.7 seconds. Bert Davis did it in 12 seconds, because he stopped to drink a beer, and, according to Sanders, it took Itzkovitz two minutes to complete the race.
The day featured a cake walk, with confections cooked by locals who included Duke Brown, Irnestine Bouie, Nashawn Bankston, Carol Barfield, Melanie Zingarelli, Reese Cargill, Makynley Lane, and Stella Bryant.
Sanders said he’d like to do the next one on the football field, and make it reminiscent of the field days that used to attract the attention of local school kids every year.