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Six members of Team GSS learning valuable life skills

By: Carol Percy, Reporter Lincoln News Messenger
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On Saturday morning at McBean skate park, the riders line up for their first jump.

Think Evel Knievel.

Think Olympic gymnastics performed on a little scooter with swivel handlebars and you’ll have an idea of the athletic pyrotechnics than can be achieved when a kid has no fear.

All the boys of Team GSS (Grunge Scooter and Skate) roll out, lining up to jump the ramp, watching intently as their newest member, known for his cowboy tactics, pushes off.

Thirteen-year-old Jacob DeVries slams his scooter to the pavement and rushes headlong at the high concave structure that sweeps upward like a wave.

As Jacob mounts the top, his body arcs into mid-air and flips upside down, hovering high above the ground, feet pointing at the sky. Jacob hangs for a heart-stopping moment, wheels spinning, bearings screaming, before he bends out of the flip and thunks back to the pavement. Gliding to a stop, Jacob grins, as if to say: “Hey, what’s the big deal?”

“When I see him do those flips, I hold my breath and when he lands safely, I breathe again,” said DeVries mother, Angie DeVries, who waits outside the skate park fence.

“It’s hard to watch him but he’s smart— he studies the physics of a jump and decides whether it’s going to hurt him, whether he can land the trick and then he goes for it, full bore, she said. “I tell him to just make good choices.”

Jacob is one of six riders for Team GSS, an idea that was the brainchild of Al Cass, owner of Grunge Scooter and Skate, a tiny shop that sells scooters, skateboard parts, accessories and apparel, and is within easy scootering distance of McBean Park and Lincoln Boulevard. Riders are encouraged to wear helmets and knee pads.

The other GSS riders are Josh Torres, 16; Ryan Denham, 14; Braydon Keeler, 13; Jonny Mass, 16; and Jared Jacobs, 15. Cass’ 13-year-old son, Brennen Cass;  and Ben Silva, 13, are future team members in training.

Freestyle scootering is an action sport in which riders perform tricks similar to those performed on skateboards. As a rule, there are two styles of riders: park and street. Park riders generally practice tricks in skate parks, while street riders scooter using the environment of streets - curbs, handrails, stairs and speed bumps.

Cass, who’s also a Lincoln firefighter on Engine No. 34, both mentors and sponsors the boys, who are training for pro-level competition. Cass grew up in Roseville and later graduated from Colfax High School. He worked in two local fire departments before coming to Lincoln in 2002.

Angie DeVries said that her son is developing life skills from being on the GSS team.

“It’s a discipline. He really works hard at his tricks,” she said. “He’s got more confidence from being on the team and being part of GSS teaches him how to work with others. The kids teach and support one another.”

Team GSS’s scooters are nothing like the clunky red metal icons of the past. Made of aluminum with handle bars that swivel, the scooters are lightweight and fast, rolling at a speed about three times faster than a person could walk. Gear names include Grit, Lucky and Madd — all aptly named, given the riders’ wild gymnastic maneuvers.

Cass said he “got the scooter bug about 18 months ago” after visiting Epic Skate Park in Rocklin. He saw scooters as a way to share something with his three boys, Brennen, 13; Kaden, 9; and Greyson, 5. After beginning with Internet sales, Cass opened Grunge Scooter and Skate about a year ago. Prices for scooters range from $89 for entry-level equipment to $600 for a pro-level model.

Sponsorship of the other boys followed, according to Cass.

“Lincoln’s parks and rec do a fine job but I wanted to do something more personal,” Cass said.

Cass saw a way to teach youth how to build character and discipline through the scooter team. Scootering offers benefits to youth that go beyond athletics, according to Cass.

Josh Torres, a Lincoln High School freshman, was Cass’s first sponsored rider.

“Josh introduced me to other riders and I got to know them,” Cass said.

Torres, who recently won a sponsorship with scooter brand AO (Alpha Omega), said that scootering “is a good way to get out and have fun with friends.”

“It’s something new and different from skateboarding,” Torres said. “It’s exhilarating.”

Angie DeVries said that she’s impressed that Cass wants to help the boys and it’s not just about their skill level.

“He looks for kids with a good attitude, who are respectful to adults and to other kids and who are good at sharing their experience and teaching other kids,” DeVries said.

What do the riders get from scootering?

They improve self-esteem through physical fitness, develop comaradery and social skills, and learn about technology, according to Cass.

Riders videotape one another performing tricks, using cell phones and cameras, and then create “edits” or short clips demonstrating their scooter tricks for YouTube. Rider Jonny Mass, who has started his own scooter channel on YouTube, has nearly 3,000 subscribers. His “edits” have garnered more than 174,000 hits, according to Cass.

 “You have to have a lot of courage to do these tricks,” Cass said. “You can get beat up but these kids get right back up on their scooters and go again. They have a nonstop quality that’s inspirational.”

Cass wants residents to realize they’re doing more than just having fun.

“When you see them riding down your streets, and you’re tempted to be annoyed with them,” Cass said, “consider how conscientious they are, that they’re disciplined athletes who are so good at what they do that they’re being sponsored by big name brands. Please, cut ‘em some slack.”