Written by Cory Chimka
Ben’s Chili Bowl was buzzing with excitement. Several paparazzi photographers stood outside. At a reserved back table Teddie, Shaw eighth-grader, was explaining the menu to sixth-graders Marina and Gabriela.
“I always get the beef dog with chili,” Teddie said.
Teddie’s been to Ben’s a bunch of times. His principal, Ms. Douglas, takes all the straight-A students to Ben’s Chili Bowl after each report card is issued, and Teddie is always on that list. Ms. Douglas is there today as well, but they aren’t celebrating good grades on report cards.
They were waiting for the day's guest of honor: nine-time X Games gold medalist, Laureus Legend and world famous skateboarder Tony Hawk.
Before long, Hawk arrived, sauntering past the wide-eyed Chili Bowl patrons, straight back to sit with those he considers to be the guests of honor, DC SCORES poet-athletes Teddie, Marina and Gabriela, along with Shaw Middle School @ Garnet-Patterson Principal Douglas.
For the next hour, Ms. Douglas and the students chatted with Hawk over chili dogs, cheese fries and veggie burgers. Hawk, after asking for the waitress’ recommendation, had Ben’s signature dish: the original chili half smoke, a quarter pound half-pork and half-beef smoked sausage, split down the middle, served on a warm steamed bun, topped with mustard and spicy homemade chili sauce.
It was Hawk’s first time at Ben’s, and he commented that he now knows what all the fuss is about. Hawk answered thoughtful questions from the students about his favorite international cities to visit and skate in, how he got started skateboarding, and why he no longer competes.
After lunch, the students proudly led the way down historic U Street, escorting Hawk the two blocks to their school amid a flurry of photographic flashes. Back at Shaw, the entire student body had assembled in the auditorium, hot anticipation in the air. After a few words from Up2Us founder Paul Caccamo and DC SCORES Executive Director Amy Nakamoto, Hawk took the stage to wild applause.
Hawk revealed that his life and career weren’t always a skate through the park. There were people telling him he couldn’t realize his dreams at every turn; even now people tell him weekly he’s too old to skateboard.
He refused to let anyone get in his way. He found something he loved to do, did it every chance he got, and eventually became the best in the world at it! He encouraged the students to find an activity they loved just like he did.
When the floor opened up to questions, the students impressed Hawk with their knowledge of skateboarding styles and tricks, his signature video games, and their guest’s lasting legacy in both arenas.
After the questions, Principal Douglas presented Hawk with his very own Shaw Lightning T-shirt, then Hawk sat at the exit to the auditorium, patiently signing an autograph for every single student. Most excited were the 30 or so students who stood in line with their skateboards under their arms.
They ride to school every day, and head to Shaw Skatepark as soon as DC SCORES practice is over. They could hardly believe they met their hero.