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Skateboarding, religion mixed in unique grouping in Colorado Springs

June 30, 2016 Updated: June 30, 2016 at 8:16 pm
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Derrick Unrein is pictured at G&P Indoor Skatepark on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

Mike Cornell should be dead or in jail right now. Simple as that.

His life in New York state was devoted to a motorcycle club - building bikes and committing crimes, all while living in his grandmother's house. He was the guy who came to your door if you owed his club money.

You didn't want Mike Cornell standing on your doorstep.

"I'm one out of two people left from a 12-man chapter," Cornell, 23, said. "Everyone else is dead. The other guy is in federal prison for the rest of his life. That's what made me change. I wanted to live. I wanted to have children and see them grow up. I wanted to get married and see the world."

So he packed up everything he had, which wasn't much, and moved to live with his new girlfriend in Colorado Springs. He started skateboarding at Memorial Skate Park, but the drinking and the language was off-putting. Kids sat and smoked weed, drank liquor from bottles, agitated one another.

A kid named Sam approached Cornell at the park one day in September, preaching of an indoor skate park on the other side of town. Best part: No drinking. No smoking. No fighting.

"Yeah, let's go," Cornell said. "It's cold outside, man. I'm freezing."

He started going to G&P Indoor Skate Park, an indoor skateboarding spot off Platte Avenue and Arrawanna Street. There he met director Derrick Unrein, who invited Cornell to Skate Church, a weekly skateboarding session with a Bible study intermixed.

Eight months later, he's happy, goofy, reflective, talking about a transformation. He's not aggressive anymore. He says he's not filled with anger.

"If I didn't change who I was, I would be in a 6-foot hole right now or a 12-by-12 prison cell - federal level," Cornell said. "This place helps."


A group of 21 teenagers and adults, wearing funky-colored socks and Vans shoes, sat on couches and benches Tuesday night and talked about God.

They talked about being masterpieces. About how God created each of them with a specific intention, for a specific purpose.

Each week, kids as young as 13 and adults young enough to get on a skateboard come to G&P Indoor Skate Park for a free skating session. They stop partway through, gather on the couches and benches in the skate park's lobby, and talk about the word of God.

"It's nontraditional," director/pastor Derrick Unrein, 34, said. "You're not singing songs. This is come as you are. Some of these dudes do all kinds of stuff, but we just want to help out."

When he started this journey, Unrein knew he wanted to use his skateboarding influence to help people like him - people who struggled and had dark lives. He started Process Skateboard Ministry, a nonprofit program that incorporates Bible teachings with skateboarding.

The weekly Skate Church meetings started about seven years ago, and Unrein would go to local parks and invite kids back to his house, where he and his wife provided a home-cooked meal and prayer. It didn't matter that he barely knew them or their background. As long as they were open-minded, he was too.

"With skateboarders, there's this crazy bond," Unrein said. "I'm 34. Some of these guys are 13, 14, 15. It doesn't matter where they're from or what background. Skateboarding is that common ground and so we've always used that as a way to bring people together."

G&P, which stands for Grace and Peace, billed as southern Colorado's only indoor skate park, was built by Unrein over a year ago thanks to donations from churches, family, friends and the community.

There are rules. No headphones. No fighting. No drinking or smoking. Security cameras make sure nothing funny goes on. This is a place to skate and hang out. Some come simply for the free skating on Tuesdays. Some come for the Bible study.

"This is the most peaceful skateboarding I've ever had in my entire life," Cornell said. "I've never been so good, never been so ready and willing to try new things."

"I haven't gotten into a fight since I moved here. I haven't put my hands on anyone . I've mixed God and music and skateboarding and just trying to reinvent myself."


Unrein's frequent posts on Process Skate Ministry's website, which chronicle mission trips to New Mexico, the all-night skate sessions and the evangelical outreach events, often end with the same three words: "Spread the word."

He means to promote the camps and mission trips. The trick contests. The Bible studies. Tell your friends, the rail-shredding pastor says. Tell them about this camp, about this trip, about God.

This is a place born from evangelizing. And not the knocking-on-your-door, not the in-your-face, down-your-throat approach so many of these skaters are sick of. It's the genuine, skater-to-skater, no-baloney, hey-it-worked-for-me kind.

It worked for Luis Starkey, 15. Four years ago, he was a troublemaker - kicked out of his church for fighting and acting out. Starkey met Unrein at a skate park in Manitou Springs and soon he was sitting on a couch in Unrein's unfinished basement, listening to a group of skateboarders talk about Jesus.

"I love skating," Starkey said. "I talk like a skater. I dress like a skater. I act like a skater. I went to church and I'd mess around. I wasn't there to learn about Christ or anything. The people didn't like that.

"At Skate Church, they accept that and understand that behavior. I felt like I could be open to learn about whatever and still skate."


Unrein sat on a chair Tuesday and told the group about the space they sat in. Cornell and Starkey sat quietly and listened.

"If you look out here, you'll see this amazing skate park," Unrein said. "I didn't build it myself by any means. I had a ton of help.

"With help of so many rad people, we were able to build this skate park - with our own hands, every nail and screw."

He talked about the 16-hour days he put in to the building, where piles of wood turned into full ramps and rails.

He talked about the first week G&P was complete, when he walked into his new office and saw the transformation of an old building to a skating sanctuary.

"Life is about growing or changing," Unrein said, standing outside a few minutes later. "If God didn't change my life, I wouldn't be married. I wouldn't have three kids."

He pointed to his building.

"This place wouldn't be here."

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