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WILSON - Dennis Ash, who was known as DSwag to his friends, loved to ride his skateboard.
But the 16-year-old never got the chance to use the portable skateboard park that was recently installed at the Wilson First Baptist Church. Dennis drowned July 8 in Lake Ontario as he attempted to swim between the piers with friends at the Wilson Harbor.
The community will come together Friday to celebrate Dennis' life and enjoy the new skateboard park at the DSwag Skateboard Tournament at the church on Petit Street.
The DSwag competition is a free public event open to youths ages 13 to 18. Registration is available online at WilsonFBC.org or at the event, but all participants must have signed parental permission slips, and all participants must wear helmets.
Onlookers will also be treated to performances by a professional skateboarder from the skateboard group "Untitled," as well as a show by pro freestyle flatland skateboarder Tim Byrne.
Wilson First Baptist Church Pastor Stephen Hay said the church bought the portable skate park, using funding from a Lakefest donation to the church, just one week before Dennis died. The park was set up just a few weeks ago and is open each Friday evening in the church parking lot.
"It has great versatility, and we can just chop and change, and you can increase the difficulty of the park by changing it different ways," Hay said. "The kids are really enjoying it. And it is reaching a group of kids that we really thought we should be reaching."
"Because it was such a tragedy, we wanted to recognize [Dennis'] life, as we recognized Sarah Johnson's life as well," Hay said.
Fourteen-year-old Sarah died July 24, two weeks after Ash, when her family's Wilson home was destroyed in a propane explosion. She was remembered in a memorial on the Wilson soccer fields and in a 5K run in her honor.
"We wanted to recognize the gifts and abilities that each one of these kids had, and for Sarah's memorial, there was a lot drawn on her abilities on the soccer field, so likewise we wanted to do the same for Dennis, who was a skateboarder," Hay said.
In Dennis' memory, the tournament also will have a message.
"We really want to get out there and raise awareness for pier and water safety so we can make sure something like [what happened to Dennis] is more preventable," Hay said. "We also want to hold open water safety classes every year in his memory after Memorial Day as the lake starts to heat up."
Church leadership had already been working with the village and town of Wilson and the Army Corps of Engineers to find better ways to equip Wilson's pier for rescues. Hay said a good place to start is to secure diving equipment for the Wilson Fire Company.
"Through this event, we really just want to celebrate his life. It is going to be important to mark his loss. He still has a lot of friends who are struggling with the fact that he is gone, and he passed in such a tragic way," Hay said. "[This skateboard tournament] is part of the mourning process. This should be a celebration of life and growth beyond tragedy."

email: nfischer@buffnews.com