Gropper finds a new purpose for old Kernel court in personal workshop

Mitchell High School athletic trainer Clayton Gropper created a home gymnasium using pieces of the old wood floor in the Mitchell gym. (Courtesy photo)

Lessons learned from growing up on a ranch in Long Valley took Clayton Gropper on a nearly decade-long project that ended with a unique addition to his house.

Growing up, Gropper learned to find use in just about anything and throwing something away was considered a waste. So, when Mitchell High School -- where Gropper has served as athletic trainer since 2001 -- took out its old wooden floor in the gymnasium eight years ago, it was intended to sell to the highest bidder, but no one placed a bid.

Gropper was on a family vacation at the time and heard the floor was going to be scrapped, so he stepped in to make a purchase. Fast forward almost a decade and that floor now serves as a 36-foot by 40-foot indoor gym in his home workshop in Mitchell.

“I probably inherited this from my dad, but I’m one of those guys that hates to see stuff get thrown out,” Gropper said. “I don’t know if it’s the rancher in me -- I don’t want to say I’m a hoarder -- but I hate to see stuff get thrown out. … It was a one-chance deal, otherwise it was going to end up in a Mitchell landfill.”

Gropper had no strong sentimental attachment to the court itself, but he had seen it host countless games over the years and he and his wife, Jennifer, were contemplating building an attachment on their house at the time.


When he purchased the floor, it was contingent upon taking the entire surface, which meant Gropper had to store some pieces at his parents’ house and some at the houses of friends until the addition was completed.

Once his workshop -- a Dandi System with a wood frame and open rafters to shoot baskets -- was finished, Gropper had to clean the wood, pull out nails and clean the tongue and grooves on each side in order to eventually put it back together.

When it came to installing the floor on top of the heated cement flooring, he placed sections plywood underneath so it could be removed and put back together.

It was a long process, but it gave Gropper an opportunity to spend more time with his father, Paul, who would drive up on weekends to assist on the project.

“We had a great time,” Gropper said. “He spent a lot of time at our place that winter. He didn’t have any cows calving that winter, so he’d come up when I had time off and we’d work on all kinds of stuff. It was a really good bonding experience.”

Some of the pieces of the floor were deemed unusable, while friends purchased pieces and Gropper also used a portion to build a 16-foot high wall where a basketball hoop is mounted.

His repurposing habits have extended beyond the old gym floor. He also found use for some of the wood from the bleachers in the gym, using it in household projects and perhaps eventually to build a bench in his workshop.

He also saved an old scorer’s table tabbed to be tossed away and used some of the gym floor to put it on wheels and it can be used as a bar in the workshop to watch games or movies on a large projector screen.


“People come here and look at it and think I’m crazy,” Gropper said. “It was just a matter of taking time and having a hobby. It was a couple winters when I wasn’t at sporting events or at school, I’d be in the shop cleaning wood and cleaning wood.”

Even though both of his teenage daughters ultimately gravitated toward gymnastics, his next project is refurbishing the floor and painting a free-throw lane and 3-point line, it’s just a matter of carving out time.

“It’s something that takes your mind off different things and allows you to have something to do and look forward to getting done,” Gropper said. “When you’re done with it, you can say, ‘Hey, that turned out pretty good.’”

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