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Supplement Feature - September 2009

Floor It!

Finding the Right Sports Flooring

By Richard Zowie


The squeak of shoes on gym floors is the sign of a popular American activity. Some love the quick up-down action of basketball, others love the jump, spike and dive of volleyball while others enjoy not-so-conventional indoor sports like soccer, kickball and even modified versions of softball. Others also enjoy visiting the gym to run on a treadmill, pump iron or get in a game of racquetball.

The choice of surfaces varies. Some places prefer the traditional approach and use hardwood floors. Others prefer something more modern and go with a synthetic or rubberized surface. The latter surfaces are also favored in situations where many patrons have knee or joint problems and require extra cushioning, or where a moisture-resistant surface is needed. Some take the rubberized look to a new level, recycling rubber from perhaps the most fitting, familiar source—shoes.

What kind of surface is preferred? Often the choice boils down to two P's: What people prefer and what's practical.

Wooden It Be Nice?

Naturally, telling a flooring company you want a hardwood floor for your athletic needs will result in this question: "What kind of hardwood floor?" Just as there are countless types of trees on the planet, the selection of what kind of wood to use for such a surface can result in many options.

Among these many choices are oak, maple (which often varies depending on where it's from or what grade is used), beech and ash (which, along with maple, is also a popular wood used in baseball bats). Maple is a widely popular wood that's been used in hardwood sports floors for more than 100 years.

In Raleigh, N.C., at the John M. Alexander Family YMCA, officials used maple flooring for the basketball court floors. Dan Corey, the senior associate branch executive director, said using hardwood floors in the main gymnasium is common for YMCAs in the area. They also have floating wood floors in all the aerobics rooms.

Basketball's abrupt action of running up court, stopping and jumping tends to be very hard on the knees, and the hardwood court's padding is something patrons of the gym have come to like.

"They like the give the floor has," Corey said. "It's not just floating wood atop concrete. Each section sets on a rubber pad every couple of feet. It's a shock-absorbing material between the concrete and the floor. It's much better on the knees. If someone jumps on it, you can see the give on the floor. They like it whether they realize it or not."

Maintenance for the YMCA wood floors consists of using a treated dust mop. Corey described the wood floors they use as "reliable, cost-effective and attractive."

Hardwood floors, no doubt, are also a very popular choice for basketball courts outside the YMCA, particularly at the competitive levels of high school and college basketball. In fact, some even refer to basketball as "action on the hardwood."

Every so often, hardwood floors will have to be replaced due to wear and tear. It's often a decision made when managers conclude a new surface is preferable to sanding down the old surface again. For the beginning of the 2008 college basketball season, the University of Northern Kentucky (located in Highland Heights, Ky., just outside of Cincinnati) sported a brand-new hardwood basketball court made from maple in its new arena, the Bank of Kentucky Center. The court was 60 feet by 120 feet and featured an NCAA-approved floor.

What's more, the NKU Norse also received 600 square feet of maple hardwood to use in its basketball hall of fame to give visitors a feel of walking on the same surface their hoops heroes had played on.