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Kids are on a roll

Heelys give sneakers a new spin

Heelys give sneakers a new spin

January 21, 2007|by TAMELA BAKER

HAGERSTOWN - They were rolling off the shelves before Christmas, and retailers say sales haven't let up since.

They're "Heelys," the skate-shoes that have kids and tw'eens gliding down hallways, sidewalks - just about everywhere.

Priced at $59.99 and up, the one-wheeled wonders that have become a must-have item for kids from grade school to teens continue to draw parents to sporting goods stores - and have caused such a ruckus that they have been banned from various places across the country.

At least one Washington County school - Northern Middle - has sent letters home to parents asking that students leave their Heelys, at least the wheels, at home, said Carol Mowen, spokeswoman for Washington County Public Schools.

The wheels can be removed from the shoes, and wearing them without the wheels would be OK, Mowen said, but she noted that the school board's dress code requires that shoes be worn in a safe manner.

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"Shoes must be worn at all times," the dress code says. "Shoes must fit securely enough to the foot in order to allow safe movement."

So far, Mowen said, school administrators have been dealing with Heelys on a case-by-case basis, and there's been no need for further action from the board office. But with hundreds of students in multilevel buildings with different floor surfaces, safety is a concern, she said.

"There have not been a great deal of issues" with the shoes, she said, "but we want to make sure the kids are safe."

School officials also want to make sure the environment is focused on learning, Mowen added.

Preserving floors ... and themselves

The staff at Girls Inc. in Hagerstown has forbidden the girls who come to the organization's Washington Avenue facility to wear their Heelys inside the building.

That's because they want to preserve the floor of their new gymnasium - and other floors that were redone over the holidays, Executive Director Maureen Grove said.

The ban become effective earlier this month, Grove said.

Nonetheless, Grove said, she understands the shoes are popular.

"My kids have 'em, too," she said.

Daughters Brett, who's nearly 8, and Bailey, who's 5, got their Heelys for Christmas, "when Santa came," Brett said. The Heelys were her idea first, she insisted, though Bailey was quick to request a pair for herself. They have been honing their Heely skills ever since.

"Heeling" involves placing one foot in front of the other, raising the toes and gliding on the back of the foot. Brett said she was getting the hang of heeling by the second day, although she admitted she fell down a few times.

"Once, I almost fell backwards," she said.

Bailey still is working on her technique. On Friday, she confessed, "I fell two times."

Older brother Austin, 10, hasn't expressed much interest in the skate-shoes, although he allowed that "I wouldn't mind if I had some."

Supply and demand

Most of the shoes are sold to parents who are buying them for their children, said one local retailer, who added that that particular store was having trouble keeping them in stock.

And that store isn't the only one. Sales of the shoe-skates haven't fallen off since Christmas, said Chris Crouse, a sales associate at Finish Line at Valley Mall. Parents are buying them for boys and girls alike, Crouse said.

On the other side of the mall, Shenk & Tittle is sold out.

"We expect to get more," said Manager Dennis Galvin, but he said he's being told the next delivery might not be until March 1.

But that hasn't quelled interest. "We get 10 to 20 calls a day" about Heelys, he said.

Galvin said Heely sales have been brisk since early fall, and fairly even between boys and girls. But he said younger children seem to have the most interest - his store has carried the skate-shoes down to a size 1.

"You'll look out in the mall, and people are walking and the kids are gliding," Galvin said. "The smaller kids seem to be more adept."

The safety issue

But the mall has a rule against skating, and that includes Heelys, said Julie Rohm, the mall's assistant general manager.

"They're not allowed to have them as skates, but kids don't see them as skates because they're sneakers," Rohm said.

And while lots of kids attempt to spin around the mall on their Heelys, Rohm said that once mall personnel stop them and explain the mall's rules, "we usually don't have any more trouble from them."

"They are very popular and we understand that, but we have to think about the safety of our other shoppers," Rohm said. "It's a safety issue rather than a fun issue. They're great for the sidewalks and the parking lots, but it's just not summer yet."

It's a safety issue for the skaters and others alike. Galvin said the shoes come with a warning that skaters should wear helmets and pads. But they don't always wear them.

As of Friday, Washington County Hospital had only reported one Heely-related injury - but that was a concussion, hospital spokeswoman Maureen Theriault said. And the injured girl wasn't wearing a helmet, she added.

"I've seen a lot of kids with them in grocery stores, and I'm not sure that's such a good thing," Theriault said, fearing the potential for collisions between skaters and shoppers.

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