ASHWAUBENON – Tyler Marquis remembers his first visit to GBASO seven years ago.
The indoor action sports park’s founder Brian Schroeder offered a warm welcome from behind the counter, then helped him find the right gear to start skateboarding. Marquis, then 11, had played other sports, but in time grew disinterested as the competitive pressure to keep up grew.
GBASO proved different: The vibe was friendly and unique, the kids and adults accepting and the sport liberating.
“There are no rules or boundaries (to skateboarding). You can just hop on your board,” Marquis said. “Everyone here was so friendly and accepting, which is super-important to me.”
Now, 18, Marquis is the volunteer behind the counter at GBASO, short for Green Bay Action Sports Organization and pronounced “Gee-Bah-So.” Marquis helps kids pick out a new deck or wheels or safety gear. It is he who watches kids working on a new trick, battling through falls and failures. It’s him who, like Schroeder did with him, skates over to someone to encourage them to try again, telling them not to be embarrassed and making sure everyone feels accepted.
“It gives us kids a safe place to hang out and feel comfortable,” Marquis said.
The GBASO community now boasts several thousand members and draws families from across northeastern Wisconsin, yet it has also found itself in limbo after the building it has rented for eight years was sold and the new owners gave it 60 days to move out, said Chad Brinker, GBASO’s operations manager.
“There’s no ‘bad guy’ here, it is what it is,” Brinker said. “It’s a cool spot and organization we have going. We got put in a tough spot.”
Leaders knew this day would come, when someone else would buy or offer more to lease the building at 2600 S. Ashland Ave. Paul Fruzyna, GBASO board president, said long-term, strategic planning was “in its infancy when this popped up faster than we hoped.”
The news came as a collective punch to members and families’ gut. Brinker recalled an audible gasp rippling through the crowd when board members delivered the news. In the week since, some details have come into focus: GBASO will have to close April 11 while simultaneously launching a search for a new building and a Go Fund Me to help cover costs. Launched on March 29, the group has so far raised $6,00.
“We’d like to invite everyone to come and hang out that last day (April 11),” Brinker said.
Fruzyna said the sorrow is still there, but he takes solace in the outpouring of offers to help coming from the Green Bay area. Since the news came out, he said people have shares so many stories about how GBASO positively impacted their family.
“It shows people are mourning the loss of an important part of their lives. As adults, we don’t take a step back to think about how something like GBASO impacts the youth in our community,” Fruzyna said. “It sent the message to me that we have to do everything we can to come back stronger than we were when we found out this news.”
‘The greatest donation in Wisconsin skateboarding history’
The chaotic spring search for a new home is just one more obstacle for GBASO to overcome in its eight-year existence.
The indoor skate park traces its roots to 2012, when Schroeder and other Green Bay area skaters, BMXers and scooter riders wanted to fill the need for a year-round action sports venue north of Milwaukee. It was a big dream with a shoestring budget, but the group had a charismatic leader, Schroeder, who knew action sports offered a creative outlet to a lot of people both young and old.
“You get all your stress away,” said Landyn Mohr, 11, who learned to skateboard at GBASO 18 months ago and now knows at least 20 tricks. “You can do whatever comes to your mind. It’s fun.”
GBASO’s first major spark came in 2013 when Schroeder convinced the former owner of Lake Owen Skateboard Camp, in Cable, to donate its skate ramps and equipment to GBASO. The camp, which for years had taught children ages 7-17 to skate and BMX ride, had closed that year. Schroeder in 2017 called the camp’s donation “the greatest donation in Wisconsin skateboarding history.”
He mustered an all-volunteer group to load up the pieces and haul them back to Green Bay between fall 2013 and spring 2014. GBASO opened March 15, 2014, Brinker said.
The GBASO community had begun to grow and flourish by 2017 when, the day after a major fundraiser, Schroeder had a seizure and was rushed to the hospital. He would be diagnosed with a rare, slow-growing and inoperable brain tumor. His extended GBASO family, rallied to support Brian, Mandy, his wife, and their three children, Jaxson, Bennett and Mason. They drew inspiration from his battle and message to “function through fear.”
Doctors said Schroeder might have only months to live. He lived four more years before he died Jan. 27, 2021. He was 39.
Tributes poured in to social media pages and the family held a celebration of Schroeder’s life last summer that drew hundreds to GBASO. Artists painted murals of Schroeder in GBASO and one of them now adorns a skateboard deck for sale.
The Schroeder family, in Schroeder’s obituary, said GBASO embodies Schroeder’s spirit, calling the center “a refuge for an entire community and everyone who entered its doors, a place where no one is judged, everyone is both highly encouraged and supported, and every little new trick is celebrated.
“His energy and spirit still consume the space of GBASO,” they wrote.
A positive, defining moment for GBASO
Jason Bartanen sees a lot of future leaders on the GBASO ramps and half-pipes, too many for GBASO to close. A GBASO board member since last year, he said the entire community is determined to make this a positive, defining moment in the organization’s history.
“There’s a lot of work to do, but the outcome will be beneficial to the GBASO community and northeast Wisconsin because this is a destination for skaters,” Bartanen said.
His son, Aidryk, now 12, tended to lose interest in other youth sports after a season or two; that changed at GBASO. Bartanen didn’t know much about skateboarding, let alone that the Green Bay area was home to one of the few indoor skate parks north of Milwaukee.
He called GBASO. Schroeder answered.
Two hours later, Aidryk had a new deck, gear and safety equipment and information about learn-to-skate classes on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Father and son now make regular visits to GBASO. Jason offered to help out more at the center last year and accepted an invitation to join the board of directors.
“This is my version of being on the golf course with him,” Jason said. “It’s one of our favorite places to be.”
Bartanen said he sees kids at the center developing critical life skills and learning to build each other up rather than tear one another down. He sees the 10- to 14-year-olds on the park’s Youth Advisory (Skate) Board who offer up new ideas and value having a voice in park operations. The Bartanens have been involved in community cleanups and fundraisers GBASO organizes, too.
“We want kids to feel they have a voice in the organization and instill confidence in them,” Bartanen said. “It’s more than just a skatepark. It’s families, families who come together and skate together. There’s a sense of community here that’s wonderful to see.”
This week, rather than watching Aidryk skate and try new tricks, Jason spent Wednesday afternoon helping to dismantle the “Bouldering Cave.” The roar of skateboard and scooter wheels on ramps now competes with the screech of power tools. What took GBASO more than six months to build, and years to expand, now has to come down in six weeks.
Fruzyna said board members have taken on different responsibilities related to park teardown, funding and scouting for a new home. There’s a need for materials like shipping pallets, trailers and trucks to facilitate the move. The GBASO website includes a volunteer sign-up sheet for those who want to help with various takedown tasks. There’s also a need for storage for all the ramps, bowls, half-pipes, murals and equipment until GBASO finds another home.
Brinker laid out the basics of what that new home needs to include:
15,000 to 25,000 square feet of space
15-foot ceilings, though 20 feet would be better
A central, visible location in the Green Bay area
Brinker said the board hopes to find a permanent home for GBASO, one they can control long-term. Fruzyna said it would need to raise a lot of money to buy a building, and that usually takes time. Leasing, buying, the board is considering all options.
“We’re trying to understand what options are out there. We’ll evaluate those options and determine the best way forward for GBASO and the community we serve,” Fruzyna said.
All this will work toward the singular goal to reopen GBASO as soon as possible, Brinker said.
“We’re not going to go away,” Brinker said. “GBASO is too important of a place.”
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: GBASO, Green Bay’s indoor skateboard park loses lease, seeks new site