Tampa’s Bro Bowl vs. Bob Buckhorn: A curious remaking of ‘Old School’ and ‘DodgeBall’

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There’s something archetypal in the struggle underway to save Tampa’s Bro Bowl, beyond the simple fact of its historic and deserved place in Perry Harvey, Sr. Park.

The plot line, from a distance at least, looks a lot like that of the movies ‘DodgeBall’ or ‘Old School’ — both of which involved quite a battle by protagonists to keep their rightful place.

In ‘DodgeBall’, that meant a high-stakes final showdown against the predatory Globo-Gym to keep Average Joe’s gym alive.  In ‘Old School, that meant a series of successful feats of academics and athletics to ultimately outdo Dean Pritchard’s mission to revoke the fraternity’s charter.

To the Bro Bowl, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is Pritchard and Globo-Gym wrapped into one. And the first step toward victory came last week with the iconic skate park’s designation on the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service.

Bro Bowl supporter Shannon Bruffett and many others fought for this designation for years, and the announcement couldn’t have been more timely.

Buckhorn wants to bulldoze the skate park and move it a few blocks away to make room for a black history-themed park within a $6.5 million redevelopment plan.  Plans for the park include a history walk and a focus on the area’s musical history.

Bruffett and others don’t see these goals as mutually exclusive, and don’t get why Buckhorn is dead set on demolition rather than integration.

“Bro Bowl is the first free, ride at your own risk public skate park in the state of Florida.” said Bruffett in a WFLA story. “I think we should celebrate all of Tampa’s history.”

Kyle Sokol, owner of the Florida Skate Museum in St. Pete, agrees.

“It’s a pretty big deal to get any kind of skateboarding thing recognized nationally like that,” Sokol said. “We worked hard to get it on there.”

But it remains a question whether the federal designation will stand in the way of Buckhorn’s bulldozers.

Just as Dean Pritchard undermined the legitimacy of ‘Old School”s fraternity on a technicality, so Buckhorn sees Bro Bowl’s entry onto the historic registry, calling it a “meaningless designation.”

“There is nothing historic or significant about it, except in the mind of that very small population of skateboarders who have skated there for years,” Buckhorn stated. “As it exists right now, the current configuration of the bowl is not going to stay.”

Buckhorn sees moving and remaking the skate park as a “win-win for everybody.”

Not quite. A close look at the current map and redevelopment plans suggests that leaving the Bro Bowl in place would, if anything, expose skateboarders to African-American history without compromising what can be included in the new design.

Movies like ‘Old School’ and ‘DodgeBall’ are great because they let us into a world where underdogs and good guys can prevail against better financed, more organized forces.

But even with the new historic designation on its side, it is no sure thing that the Bro Bowl can accomplish the same.

Karen Cyphers, PhD, is a public policy researcher, political consultant, and mother to three daughters. She can be reached at [email protected]