AMASA, Mich (WJMN) – March is a month many basketball fans look forward to all year round. The intensity, the upsets and the victorious ending for one lucky team is what March Madness is all about. A key component of the tournament through – the floor. Tucked away in a town of 200 people in Amasa, Michigan you can’t miss Connor Sports.
Connor Sports is a flooring mill that manufactures enough Maple to produce approximately 800 regular-sized basketball courts each year. With a lengthy list of clients, Connor Sports has its hand in the production of some of the countries most famous courts. The NBA, various colleges and universities, and the NCAA are just a few of the companies biggest clients. With the weather being on Connor Sports’ side, Jason Gasperich says that this is the reason the plant is tucked away in the Upper Peninsula.
“Our factory is located here in Michigan very far north,” Gasperich said. “Maple has a tendency to get harder and denser the further north it is grown, so a factory located in the southern part of the country is really further away from the optimal source of lumber that we need. Typically what you will find in this business is that the flooring mills are closest to where the trees are harvested.”
An NCAA March Madness floor begins its preparations well before March is even a thought in most of our minds.
“In an NCAA Tournament floor, typically the trees are gonna be cut down most commonly in the late fall, leading up to the tournament time,” said Gasperich. “Floors are then built usually about two months in advance to the tournament here, once the floor is finished here it then travels to another partner of ours where they lay that floor out, sand it, seal it, they paint all of the graphics and logos on it then apply finish. And that takes place approximately a month before the tournament starts” said Gasperich.
The court’s life first begins as one of many maple trees that are native to the U.P. Through an external company, the maple trees are cut down, cut into smaller pieces, and transported to the Connor Sports flooring mill.
“So when we bring rough lumber into the flooring mill, it first goes through a scanning operation where each individual board is looked at by computer, we then make decisions to cut the boards to a certain width, the width of the board is optimized for the type of flooring we are manufacturing on any given day,” said Gasperich. “The rip saw then feeds the lumber to a plaining operation,” said Gasperich.
The plaining operation smooths the surface and determines the board’s thickness. Once that is complete, imperfections such as knots and other defects are removed. Then, just like a bracket, each board will meet its match. Each board will then move on to the side matching operation.
“The side matcher is where the flooring really starts to take shape that’s where you see the shape of the board that we would see behind us in the portable department,” Gasperich said. “So the side matching operation takes a rough sawing board and puts a smooth surface on it to accept the seal, paint, and finish on the boards at a place off-site” said Gasperich.
And just like that, an NCAA tournament court is born! These courts began this process months before any basketball season has even started. Trees intended to be used for NCAA floor(s) are usually cut down around late fall. The floors are built-in panels about two months in advance of the tournament and once the floor is finished in the building stages, it travels to an external company to receive all of the graphics, paint, logos, and the finishing touches. With about a month until March, the floors are now ready to be under some of America’s best collegiate basketball stars.
After the final buzzer and a new champion is crowned, the floor then gets a price tag attached to it. The winning team will get first dibs at purchasing the floor, followed by the first runner-up team. If neither team opts to purchase the floor, the court will then head to the public market. Teams who opt to purchase the floor get creative with how they choose to display this prized possession.
“Some interesting things happen once the floor it’s used in the tournament,” said Gasperich. “As I mentioned before, the championship teams always have the first opportunity to buy the floor and we have seen interesting things happen so sometimes they will use the center court section in the locker room, other teams have that center court section up on the wall. It’s a reminder of previous team’s successes” said Gasperich.
Gasperich says that he and his team take great pride in the finished product that they create.
“You see your product in use,” Gasperich said. “So if I am watching my kids in a basketball game I might see our product or if I am watching TV and I’m watching the NCAA final four tournament I am seeing the efforts of everyone that is here on this property. There is a number of people who work in this facility and everyone has a number to play in the manufacturing the product” said Gasperich.
Connor Sports has announced they have extended their agreement with the NCAA, thus keeping the forest to floor for the next five years.