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Choosing Church Sports and Recreation Equipment
By: Ron Ensz

Do you have a sports ministry at your church? The concept has become very popular, because both ministry and membership have realized there are benefits. Having worked with sports, churches, and schools for many years, I have some tips to give you insight into the sports and rec equipment world.
Before you start planning your sports area, I would like to address safety. Sports facilities need padding on walls behind basketball backboards and along wall corners and the edges of stages. It does not matter what sports are played or what ages play. Safety is essential.

As you plan a sports program, consider every product's safety as the No. 1 issue. After everything has been done to compare product safety, there is durability, and how that is backed up by the product warranty. We understand budgets are tight and equipment needs to perform as long as possible.

Sports traditionalists like a floating maple floor. Cost-conscious membership may be more interested in one of the new tile sport flooring surfaces. Then, you'll need to think about marking the floor. Determine if you will mark for basketball, volleyball, badminton, etc.

What colors will you use? Do you want a matching color scheme for safety wall padding under the backboards, doors, etc.?

Most facilities designate a basketball court as their first sports priority. Determine if will make space for a competitive court. If school or league competition will be played, you need a regulation size court, 50' x 94', and official size backboards, 42" x 72" and goals. Don't forget to plan for out-of-bounds space. Many recreation centers also put up side court practice goals so more people can play during open recreation hours.

Most of us are familiar with wall mounted basketball structures used in many gymnasiums. They come in three styles: stationary, sidefold and swing up. Wall mounted structures are usually used on side courts. Some companies custom make these structures to exact measurements of the wall-to-boundary distance, but I recommend you look for a structure that telescopes or adjusts to fit. It will make the process easier for the person measuring and the installer. Plus, standard telescoping equipment is much less expensive than custom made.

Ceiling mounted basketball goals are typical where there is competitive play. Always consult a contractor to determine what your walls and ceiling will support.

Will the structure be manual or power adjust? Do the structures need to be height adjustable for various ages? Do you need to budget for extra support bracing?

Portable basketball systems allow more flexible use of the space than wall or ceiling structures. There are portables for the main court, side courts, and even kid sizes. They raise just as many questions. Do you have enough room for the base to be on the court? Can you still walk behind it when it is lined up on the playing floor? How much overhang does it have? Do you have storage space for these units? Are there double doors for getting a large portable into the facility, onto the court and in and out of the storage space? Is the storage area close to the court? Will you need to move tables, chairs, etc. to get the goals in and out of storage? The floor surface, thresholds, and corners all make a big difference when moving portable goals.

Then, there is safety. How sturdy is the unit? Can kids dunk on it? Adults? Will all play be supervised? I'm not discouraging portable basketball units. In fact, I think they are terrific. Just keep in mind that being portable has its advantages and disadvantages.

There are many options for the backboards and rims on both wall mount and portable systems. Competition play requires an official size 42" x 72" glass backboard with backboard padding. Don't worry about the glass. Look for a system that connects the rim directly to the pole with bolts through the glass. That's so the glass won't absorb the shock of a slam dunk. Do this, and make sure you get 1/2" tempered safety glass and you'll be fine. Backboards not used for competition can have smaller boards that might be steel, aluminum or acrylic. Breakaway goals are another must. After all, what player, of any age, doesn't want to try a slam dunk and go for a little hang time on the rim? By the way, hanging from the rim is not to be encouraged.

I've focused a great deal on basketball. Most of you will also want to consider using your facility for other sports. Top of mind, those include volleyball, pickleball, badminton, and even indoor soccer.

Volleyball is a game that has potential for both recreation and league play. If you are building, you have the opportunity to incorporate floor sockets for the volleyball posts.  Some of these must be up to 14" below the floor surface, so the knockouts need to be in place before pouring the floor. Different floors require different kinds of sockets, and different volleyball systems require different sizes of sockets, from 3" to 4-1/2" in diameter. It pays off to research the type of system you want before putting in the sockets.

Volleyball standards come in various materials, most commonly aluminum and steel. Steel has traditionally been considered the most rigid material, but that strength also makes the standards very heavy to transport to and from storage. There are now new aluminum and carbon fiber materials that are much lighter weight but still maintain rigidity similar, some even better than, steel.

Then, there are portable volleyball systems. There are several available that are freestanding, much like portable basketball systems. Some are stood on the floor and have ceiling anchors, with accompanying weights, cables, and cranks. If you are going portable, I recommend the freestanding systems. You need to ask the same type of questions as you ask about portable basketball systems. Do you have adequate storage? Will doorways and thresholds cause a problem? Is the system easy to set up and move? Is it sturdy enough to hold the net taunt? How many courts do you need? Do you want adjustable net height for multiple ages or games? A volleyball system with adjustable net height will allow multiple games such as badminton and pickleball.

Several other games that are a little uncommon but equally fun have become part of indoor recreation. Goals are available for indoor hockey and futsal. Perhaps you can introduce indoor hockey at your church and teach a program with better manners that we see on the ice. Futsal is frequently referred to as five-a-side or mini-soccer.

Getting your game equipment is just the beginning. If you will have competitive leagues, you should consider scoreboards, scorer's tables, player seating, and bleachers. Use portable scorer's tables, player seating, and tip-and roll portable bleachers indoors and then they can be moved outdoors for street-style tournaments. Add a tetherball pole for the younger ages to keep busy.

Before you turn the page or start planning your indoor sports area, I would like to remind you again about safety. Metal edges and corners should have rolled edges. Wall padding should be at least 2" thick. There is padding for backboards. Portable equipment bases of all kinds should be padded. Ask the dealer. Call the manufacturer. Safety should be their top priority, too.

Incorporating sports into your ministry is an excellent way to encourage families and young people to spend more time in your church. I encourage you to strengthen your community with sports.

Ron Ensz is owner and president of Future Pro Inc., a sporting goods equipment dealer that serves churches, schools, camps and recreation centers. Future Pro is an authorized Bison sports equipment dealer, www.futureproinc.com.

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