By Kristen Bergstrand, Utilization and Marketing Coordinator, Division of Forestry, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
College basketball's "March Madness" has died down this spring but in just two short years Minneapolis will become the venue for the Men's 2019 National Collegiate Athletic Associations (NCAA) Final four. This is an exciting opportunity for Minnesota to highlight a variety of great things our state has to offer ranging from quaint local business to new world class venues. It could also be an opportunity to showcase our local sugar (hard) maple wood resource. Wood basketball floors are often designed to be portable and built specifically with individualized logos and specifications for events such as the NCAA final four tournament. Sugar maple grown north of the 35th parallel is deemed the species of choice for wood sports flooring because it has a uniformly tight wood grain. Sugar maple is durable, takes finishes like varnish well, and has low maintenance requirements.
It takes around 500 trees to create the hundreds of wood panels needed to make a regulation size basketball court. The sugar maple trees are debarked and milled to random lengths. The hardwood lumber boards are dried then sent for secondary manufacturing. The boards are processed through rip saws, planers and molders surfacing the wood and removing defects to create the finished pieces that are then turned into panels. The panels are sanded, measured and stained. The logos and graphics can then be applied with stencils. The panels are shipped to venue locations typically via truck. The panels have to be well laid out and documented because workers will re-assemble the panels like a puzzle at the event location. The installation typically uses a pin-and-hole system with a sub floor. The sub floor is designed and used primarily to increase maple's natural shock absorption and elasticity. Once installed the floor is modified to take into account the, sidelines and baselines. These courts are designed to be very portable and quickly assembled with installation done in as little as three hours.
Maple is a component of Minnesota's northern hardwood forests. Minnesota has four species: sugar (hard) maple, red (soft) maple, silver maple, and black maple. Sugar (hard) maple and red (soft) maple are the most common species of maple. Minnesota falls into the western edge of maple's natural growing range so the highest quality of sugar maple is typically found in the southeast part of the state. Minnesota's 4.9 million acres of state lands are third party certified under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Minnesota's maple harvest is currently well below the long-term sustainable levels and most maples are found on private forest lands.
Our lake state neighbors to the east in Michigan have experience in harvesting their local wood, processing wood panels, and building wood basketball courts. The wood for the 2017 men's and women's Final Four courts came from the Two Hearted River Forest Reserve in Michigan's Upper Peninsula owned by the Nature Conservancy. The wood was cut by a local logging company, milled and processed at Connor's Mill in Amasa, Michigan. Connor Sports is the U.S. market leader in sports surfacing and specializes in maple hardwood courts having built 14 for National Basketball Association teams and other NCAA universities and high schools. Connor Sports is the official basketball court of the NCAA's Final Four.
As the preparations start heating up for the 2019 NCAA's Men's Final Four, it will certainly highlight Minneapolis's urban downtown hospitality infrastructure. Minnesota looks forward to bringing "Minnesota Nice" to life for the many basketball fans that will descend on Minneapolis in 2019. Just don't be surprised if rural Minnesota's forests take the assist and make a fast break of their own to try to become part of the action.