Indoor Court Surfaces

By Randy Gaddo
 Photos Courtesy Of Rockford Ill. Park District

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.

The Indoor Sports Center (ISC) in Rockford, Ill., recently hosted one of the most unique uses of a parks and rec indoor facility—a circus complete with an elephant!


A vast majority of parks and rec departments won’t ever have to face that type of strain on an indoor court surface; however, since the dawn of indoor facilities, there has been an ongoing discussion about the best type of surface and the various uses of indoor courts.

In the old days, program participants felt fortunate if they had an indoor facility that featured a hardwood floor—and even then it was generally just for basketball; without this surface, most players were willing to settle for concrete or tile.

However, modern-day users have become much more sophisticated, so parks and rec pros have tried to listen to their customers and provide them with what they want. Now the use of indoor facilities is limited only by the imagination. From bridal shows to circuses, an indoor facility must be many things to many people, and as a result, the floor takes a real beating.

Selecting A Surface
In turn, the indoor sport-court industry offers a plethora of choices, each with its own unique qualities. The selections are so abundant that parks and rec professionals are wise to educate themselves thoroughly before purchasing new or upgraded court surfaces. The right choice is not as simple as might be expected because there are so many factors to consider:

  • Is the court a new construction or a retrofit?
  • Who will be using the court, now and in the future?
  • What sort of stress will events and users inflict on the floor? Will it be high or low impact?
  • Will the use be single- or multi-purpose?
  • What type of routine and long-term maintenance will be required, and how much will it cost?

The type of surface can be the difference between a widely used facility that elicits praise and a sparsely used building that draws complaints.

And, once the choice is made, a modern sport court can serve for many years if properly maintained.

Maintenance Matters
Built in 1995, Rockford’s ISC is a 60,000-square-foot, multi-purpose facility with courts that entertain several events, everything from basketball, volleyball, and golf to football, wheelchair sports, and trade shows. The circus was a recent addition.

One-third of the facility (20,000 square feet) has a special sport surfacing that has been in use since 2001. ISC’s manager Louis Mateus notes that it has held up very well.

“We do multiple events on it. We’ve found that it is especially good for volleyball,” he notes, adding the center has a large youth and adult volleyball program with tournaments almost every weekend. Not only does the facility serve the city’s population of more than 150,000, but Mateus says that people from all over the Midwest use the facility.

A secret to the longevity of indoor sport courts is proper, preventive, routine maintenance, but Mateus says even with heavy use, it isn’t complicated.

“There is certainly a lot of maintenance to keep them clean, but it’s really not too bad,” he adds, noting that the center just purchased a new scrubbing machine that washes and dry-vacs the floors in one sweep. “It’s a lot better than going around with a broom and mop,” he quips.

All-Occasion Flooring
One of the most common types of indoor sport courts is used for basketball. There was a time when various types of wood were the only option, but now other materials are being used. Modular, interlocking, suspended, high-impact polypropylene tile systems boast better shock absorption, a quick installation, and lower maintenance costs.

Basketball purists maintain that the player traction and ball action are different on wood than on the newer systems, which is arguably true. However, with today’s emphasis on budget-conscious, revenue-producing, and multi-purpose facilities, wood is not always the best option.

The Folsom Sports Complex in California, for example, has two wood, full-sized, high school regulation courts that are also used for volleyball. The facility’s Recreation Coordinator Cody Bateson says that with users ranging in age from youth to mid-50s, the courts are in constant use, and annual maintenance is required.

“We pay a contractor to come in annually and essentially take the top coat of wax off and re-wax and buff the surface,” he explains, adding that the lines for basketball and volleyball embedded or painted into the surface do not have to be touched.

The Folsom facility, which opened as a private enterprise in 2004, and was taken over by the city in 2006, now also hosts special events throughout the year. This is a practice that many departments are employing to help generate revenue from facilities that weren’t originally designed to accommodate them.

“For special events or trade shows, we use a vinyl floor covering that comes in rolls to protect the two basketball courts,” Bateson remarks. “It works very well to protect it—we have had no issues with damage to floors as a result of the shows.”

Call On The Pros
Whether retrofitting an older facility, or having the luxury of being a part of the planning team for a new indoor sports complex, parks and rec professionals should call in the pros from the industry to help sort out all of the variables.

“It’s always a good idea to contact representatives from the industry who are happy to work with people to make sure they understand the different products on the market and choose which one will meet their needs,” says Mary Helen Sprecher, technical writer and marketing coordinator with the American Sports Builders Association, a non-profit trade group that serves as a centralized source for information on tennis courts, running tracks, fields, and indoor sports facilities.

Sprecher notes that with more than 300 member companies, the organization can be a wealth of information for parks and rec professionals who are looking to educate themselves.

But another important educational tool is guidance from parks and rec pros in the field that have personally had good and bad experiences with indoor sport courts. In an effort to help others learn from your experience—or your mistakes—take a minute and write to PRB or email me to share your story, and we’ll get the word out.

Randy Gaddo served for 15 years as a director in municipal parks and recreation after retiring from 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He developed, wrote, administered, and presented maintenance plans as well as recreation master plans during that time. Gaddo earned his Master’s in Public Administration, and now lives in Beaufort, S.C. He can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email .