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Daily Journal
     September 29, 2020      #78-273 KDJ

Bourbonnais skatepark video goes viral, spreads

By Mason Schweizer

Ben Williams picked up skateboarding in 2014, and the 19-year-old Bourbonnais resident has spent hours skating every day since, often spending time at the Bourbonnais skatepark. TJ Hasselbring, an 8-year-old third-grader from Bourbonnais, picked up his own passion for skating last year, a passion that has only grown according to his mother, Amanda.

And none of them could have ever expected that a run-in at the Bourbonnais skatepark would lead them to viral video fame, but that’s exactly what happened earlier this month.

On Sept. 10, Amanda brought her son by the skatepark, where TJ had first started learning the ropes on a penny board, a smaller type of skateboard, before a generous neighbor gave him his first real board. And while TJ was trying to figure out how to drop in off of a ramp, Williams noticed the youngster and decided to go help him.

Kelly Essler, Courtesy of Olivet Nazarene University

“There’s always the same group of skaters there, and one of them is Ben,” Amanda said. “They were always aware of TJ, but not really too interested in talking or helping out, but that day, Ben just came and helped out.”

Amanda recorded a video of Ben helping her son learn how to master his drop and posted it on her TikTok, where it took off.

Erik Firganek, Courtesy of Olivet Nazarene University

Her original post has over 5 million views and has been shared thousands of times, from regular users to media conglomerates like ESPN.

The response that has come their way has been resounding. Amanda said that TJ’s grandparents saw the video in a viral internet post and didn’t even realize it was their grandson who had become internet famous, while Williams said he’s noticed increased notoriety locally and virtually.

“Going viral was nuts, man — all of the sudden, I looked and had 100-plus people direct messaging me on Snapchat,” Williams said. “I was wondering what was going on, it all happened so fast.

“I got noticed a little bit in public, in stores and everyone noticed that went to the skatepark.”

When COVID-19 hit, Amanda was away from work for a couple of months, which is when she began to take TJ skating more often and noticed her son had found a new love, something that has continued to grow since she went back to work in June.

“Coming back to work in June and trying to find things to do to not get bored with, the skatepark was definitely one of them for TJ,” Amanda said. “He asks for it every single day after I get him from day care.

“He’s definitely the daredevil and adventurer.”

And as a mother, seeing her son find something he enjoys doing, gives off a feeling that only a mother could understand.

“It’s just really great to see him try and do it and to finally get it,” Amanda said. “He’s so excited about it, and it’s something he’s stayed interested in more so than other things.”

For Williams, the precious moments caught on camera are what skateboarding is all about.

“Skating is all about meeting new people and sharing what you love to do together,” Williams said. “It’s awesome to watch someone learn, no matter how old.

“I normally help out everyone that goes there, including older guys, but watching a kid learn as fast as he did in only a couple days, he’s got good things coming his way, especially if he sticks to it.”

And that’s exactly what TJ plans on doing. Ironically, the newest local viral sensation wants to run his own YouTube skateboarding page when he grows up. When that day comes, fans can hope to see videos of his new favorite skater, Williams, and to see TJ continue his development as a street style skater.

“I don’t really like dong tricks, I like going down the ramps, trying to grind and going off the boxes,” TJ said. “And I’m gonna try my best to ollie flat so when I’m skateboarding in the street, I can jump up on the curb.”

The two see each other regularly when they go skating now, with Williams continuing to help TJ master his craft after successfully learning how to drop in, like they worked on in the video.

“Skateboarding is all mind over matter and confidence — I just told him the mechanics of dropping in and he did everything right on what I told him to do,” Williams said. “Sharing the passion of skating is awesome because we need more skaters in the community.”

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