The Rise of the Goodlums

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“We have a group of directionless teens who are always making trouble at the skate park. Could you do something with that?”

The Quakertown borough manager couldn’t see it, but Dave’s jaw hung open on the other end of the phone. As a local pastor, he was on a mission to find a way that he could be more involved in the community and influence his neighborhood. But he never thought he would be asked to get back on a bike.

You can’t race dirt bikes for a living” was the most common response Dave Kratz ’10/G’18 heard when he talked about his career goals growing up. “People would tell me, ‘you need to find something else.’ So I set off to prove them wrong.”

After graduating high school, Dave’s determined and thrill-seeking personality turned pro. For seven years, he raced throughout the United States and Europe. He even earned a factory ride, where he was offered a salary to ride a dirt bike.

“I never made a ton of money, but I had a lot of fun and had a ton of good experiences. Also a lot of injuries, 10 surgeries, 20 broken bones. But regardless, it was awesome!” Dave enthusiastically recalled.

Over seven years those injuries added up. Recently married and suffering from a torn trachea, Dave thought God was calling him to leave the world he loved.

“I just felt that God was calling me to work for results that last for eternity. I had started a Bible study, but I wanted to learn more about the Bible so I could teach it better.”

That’s when he met Paul Benware, a former Bible professor at the University: “He was teaching a class at our church, and I was hurt from racing. He encouraged me to take General Epistles, and it was crazy because I loved it. I hated school before.”

Taking just a couple classes at a time, Dave worked his way through his Bible degree over eight years. It was during this time that he also assumed the role of youth pastor at East Swamp Church in Quakertown. Dave was involved in a lot of ministries through his work at the church, and he took teams all over the world to share the gospel. But in 2006, shortly after returning from a trip, Dave and his church staff began to ask the question, “Would our own community even notice if we closed our doors?”

Dave was still on the phone with the borough manager when the words tumbled out of his mouth: “Well shoot, I love action sports, so we’ll go start hanging out there.”

The borough was on the verge of a decision to close the skate park because it had become a growing center for graffiti and drugs among the area’s teens. But where the borough saw a problem, Dave saw a unique opportunity to love these kids where they were at—a concept he first learned from his father. While many adults in Dave’s life had told him that motocross racing was not something a good church boy should be doing, his father traveled with him to every race and embraced his friends.

“My dad showed me what it looked like to have a relationship with Jesus in a world that I loved, which was on the race track. He came outside the four walls of the church and showed me that Jesus is just as relevant at a race track. I wanted to be able to do the same for the kids at the skate park.”

Modeling his father, Dave and a small team of church volunteers spent hours in the skate park each week in an attempt to build relationships and ultimately change the destructive culture by encouraging the teens to practice their action sports skills.

“We wanted to invest in these guys and really walk with them and enter their world just like Jesus entered ours. We do this by being with them, developing them in their skills and abilities in action sports, and naturally integrating faith through that.”

The Birth of Free Fall Action Sports

While these casual hangout times were effective in slowly changing the culture of the park, Dave knew that they needed to give the kids something to work toward. Similar to the Friday night lights of a Homecoming football game or the spotlight of center stage in the school play, the long hours of practice and hard work of action sports athletes reach their climax when they have the chance to show their skills through demos and other events.

To give these kids their own “center stage” opportunity, Dave reached out to other local churches to partner together to host their first X-Games-styled event in 2008. This annual event includes BMX, skateboard, and scooter competitions, a basketball 3v3 tournament, and field games. Local shops provide prizes for the top competitors, and Camp Woodward, a pro-level action sports facility, raffles off a weekend getaway at their camp. Ultimately, this event provides the opportunity to share the gospel with the community, which occurs through student testimonials or Q&As. This event was given the name “Free Fall,” which the entire ministry—Free Fall Action Sports (FFAS)—would later be named after.

In addition to the annual event and regular times of discipleship, FFAS also began hosting a series of summer events. While the kids are not in school, these events give students the opportunity to practice and compete in competitions such as “Best Trick” or “Half-Pipe Jam.”

The Rise of the Goodlums

As they continued to work in the park, Dave knew the culture—not just the activities—at the park had to change. 40 percent of Quakertown Community School District teenagers are considered “at-risk” by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. One of the biggest identifiable problems within the skate park was the normalcy of drug use and crime. The teens either were or knew of someone who was engaging in underage drinking, drug use, or other illegal activities. Dave wanted to change this, but to sustain real culture change, it had to be a priority of the kids themselves.

Dave and his team identified individuals who they knew could be positive influences and contribute to the efforts of FFAS. This ragged band of boys appropriately call themselves the “goodlums”—because they aren’t “hoodlums.” The goodlums all bring their own unique set of skills and abilities to FFAS, from graphic design to ramp repair. While all of these goodlums are committed to positively contributing to the park, not all of them would identify as followers of Christ. But because of the rich mentor-ship they receive through FFAS, they are regularly hearing the message of the gospel, and many have come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior.

The goodlums are responsible for representing the mission of FFAS well and maintaining the positive atmosphere of the park. Part of this responsibility also involves traveling outside of the skate park and doing demos for different communities. Dave and the students have traveled throughout the local area to show off their best tricks. This has included a demo presentation at Kids’ Day during the University’s annual JAM weekend for the last two years.

The goodlums even had the opportunity to serve abroad. One of the students had a desire to serve outside of the local community, so Dave connected with Christian Skaters International Ministry to see how they could do so. Through their connections, FFAS went to El Salvador in March 2019 to help out with a skate and surf camp. Through FFAS, the goodlums have learned the value of serving communities—in Quakertown and beyond—with the gifts and abilities that God has given them.

Dave and two goodlums at the 10th annual Free Fall event in September 2018

The Buy-in of the Community (and Tony Hawk)

The fruit of their ministry was quickly evident. After just three years of mentoring students and hosting events in the park, the borough made the decision to invest in expanding the park instead of shutting it down. In 2011, the borough created the Quakertown Main Street Park Committee (QMSPC), of which Dave is chairman, and set a $1 million dollar fundraising goal. Only $10,000 were raised over the first six years, making it seem like an expanded, state-of-the-art skate park would never be attainable. But that began to change when Dave contacted a few local, Christian businesses in 2017. The $100,000 in donations from these businesses and local churches then “catapulted” the community’s generosity. In March, family business partners, Marcho Family, Bergey’s Auto Dealerships, and Hatfield Quality Meats, pledged $300,000 of matching funds needed to apply for the DCED and DCNR PA State Grants.

In addition to the state grants, QMSPC also applied for a grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation, which seeks to “promote high quality, public skate parks in low-income areas throughout the United States.” In Summer 2017, the park received $10,000 from the Tony Hawk Foundation, and the foundation also offered their input and approval on the design of the park.

Both of the state grants that were applied for were approved by December 2017, which gave $350,000 to the park in addition to the $300,000 match from the business partnerships. Shortly following the grant approvals, Berks Ridge Company Enterprises donated 100% of their general contracting services to lead the construction of the Energy Center. They leveraged their working relationships, and through the generosity of their subcontractors, many of whom donated their efforts, and the addition of the Kenneth M. Carr Family Business Partner, the funding efforts launched well over $1 million.
“This incredible year of funding momentum was nothing short of a Christmas miracle!” said Dave. “It was always a big pipe dream to one day expand this park. How God came through on this is just unbelievable. It’s about so much more than the money; it’s about changing the lives of these young guys.”

The Building of Free Fall Energy Center

With the money raised, renovations to the Quakertown Action Park began in September 2018. A ceremonial first shovel was dug into the ground in October 2018. The park renovations will be conducted in three phases, the first of which is constructing the new Free Fall Energy Center. This center will serve as the “home base” of operations for Free Fall Action Sports. The building will include a snack stand, bathrooms, a meeting area, an office, and a media room. The Energy Center is set to open at the 11th annual Free Fall event this September, with construction on the skate park beginning in Spring 2020.

Being a pastor, the executive director of a nonprofit, and the chairman of a skate park fundraising committee—all at the same time—was certainly not part of Dave’s high school plans, or even his plans while studying at the University. But the unique ministry that God has crafted is far sweeter and more rewarding than what Dave could have ever imagined. To see a community rally around a gospel-preaching ministry is rare, and Dave’s work is certainly a testament to God’s faithfulness when we follow His direction.