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Derek Nesland speaks about global community through Courts for Kids

Cait Kemp

Basketball is more than a game. Springfield College promotes this idea strongly, being the birthplace of the sport itself. On every inch of campus, there is an indication that this is the place where Dr. James Naismith invented the game. A game it may have started as, but so much more it became. Derek Nesland knows this as well as anyone. 

Nesland is the founder and president of Courts for Kids, a nonprofit organization that helps to create opportunities for developing cities and countries to build multipurpose athletic courts. Courts for Kids has built 192 courts in 30 different countries around the world. These projects have included 3,924 U.S. participants from various high schools, colleges, and other organizations. 

As noted on the Courts for Kids website, their mission is “transforming lives through building courts and cultural exchange.” Values that the organization focuses on are authentic relationships, genuine partnerships, transformational experiences, and exceptional character. 

Tuesday night at 7:30 in the Fuller Arts Center, Derek Nesland presented: “Who Says There’s No Traveling in Basketball? Community Development Through Court Building Around the Globe.” 

“I feel like this is kind of a homecoming in a way, just because of the impact it has had in terms of basketball, I mean this is where it all began,” Derek said on being at the birthplace of basketball. 

Nesland was an Academic All-American and Hall of Fame basketball player at Portland State University. During his freshman year, he was asked to travel to Bosnia and Croatia to play basketball. It was right after the Bosnian war, and the country was war-torn and very different from what he was used to seeing in the U.S. “For me, as a 19-year-old, just wide-eyed college student it rocked my world. My mind exploded with, ‘Wow, this world is a much, much different place than I ever imagined,’” Nesland said.

After traveling to 14 countries playing the sport he loves, Nesland got an email asking if he knew of a team that would play in the Philippines. He replied saying that he didn’t, but inquired if there was a need for a court. 

Nesland woke up to three emails back to him with full interest in having a court made, and the rest is Courts for Kids history. He became more and more interested in what he was doing and made the decision to commit his life to doing this. 

Nesland recognizes the power of sport and how it is something that connects cultures around the world. “I’ve been to almost every corner of the world, I have never been to a place – and I don’t think a place exists – where kids aren’t playing sports,” Nesland emphasized. “…and if they don’t have access to sports like you and I think of access to sports, they’re going to make their own little nook and cranny and they’re going to find a way.”

The innate want to play sports in children shows how important athletics can be in communities. This is why the courts that this organization builds are more than just the sport itself. The courts are often the center of the communities, and they provide a place for people to gather and celebrate. 

They also often serve as a “catalyst for economic development,” as Nesland stated. When a community builds the court, it allows for other opportunities for the economy to thrive, such as concessions at the location or a school being built nearby. 

Head of the Humanics project this year, Judy Van Raalte, thought Nesland’s story was perfect for the community of Springfield College, as there is a heavy focus on Humanics, volunteerism, and of course, basketball. “[Derek] really embodies spirit, mind and body, and service to humanity, so I thought that he wrapped up the whole thing of what we stand for,” Van Raalte expressed. 

Nesland truly defines what the ‘triangle’ means here at Springfield College. Through recognizing the aspects of spirit, mind, and body and focusing on humanics, he has been able to change the world and create a bridge between communities and cultures, and it all started with basketball. 

Photo Courtesy Marketing & Communications

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