NU grad ensures hoops open gym |
Brian Shepard
Sports Writer

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NU grad ensures hoops open gym

Will Keir, a 1999 Nevada Union graduate and Nevada County resident, has been a die-hard open gym basketball advocate for 16 years and, with the help of his successful career, has finally secured a couple of courts for himself and fellow players who love the game so much.

The concept of "open gym" basketball can be easily understood. If there's a gym or any court for that matter, inside or out, and it's open, then head out and play some hoops.

Well, easier said than done. While finding a bunch of guys who want to play has never been a problem, finding a nice place with open doors on consistent basis has proved be a challenge over the years for hoopsters in Grass Valley.

"There hasn't been a consistent place to play," said Keir, sole proprietor of Middle Fork Productions. "We're always working out logistics. Nevada County Adult Sports Association has its games four nights a week, Monday there is fencing, and so Friday and Saturday are left, but that's when all the big events are."

The building Keir is referring to is Grass Valley Veterans Memorial Building, home to the NCASA and a slough of other community events. Thanks to Keir's generous contribution to cover insurance the venue will now host Keir and his basketball buddies every Friday night from 6-9 p.m. Ages 30 and up play from 6-8 p.m. and all ages are welcome afterward.

"Sponsoring the insurance feels great," Keir said. "It's my first time to give back and it was an opportunity to do something good. It's cool. Insurance is usually something that holds people back so it's nice to have the building."

Along with the veterans building, Keir also discovered a diamond in the rough at Pliocene Ridge School near Pike and Camptonville in the San Juan Ridge district.

"It's a beautiful gym," Keir said. "I was in there mopping the floors and now we have it Mondays from 6-8 p.m. It's a nice option for those who can't make the trip into town. Open gym is an opportunity for everyone to play. I feel everyone should have the chance to channel that warrior energy."

The open gym basketball crew ran into a bit of a snag five to six years ago when a construction project started at Deer Creek. The construction team had no choice but to park its equipment on the basketball court since the school needed the parking lot clear for buses. So for about three years players continued to show up hoping the court would be open. It's dilemmas like these that make open gym basketball a never-ending struggle, but sports do a lot more than offer an outlet for "warrior energy", they bring a community together and provide lifelong relationships. Open gym is how Kier was introduced to fellow player and friend Lee Stafford.

"It works out great," said Stafford. "There are 20-25 people the first two hours. We run 12 minute games, full-court, and get a good hour, hour and a half of basketball. We rotate so teams sub in and out. League games are four 12 minute quarters, but the clock is always running and most guys just want to play more."

Stafford, a Nevada County resident and father of seven children, is very appreciative of Keir's assistance and also understands the importance of getting children to stay active in the community. He has been playing basketball for about 30 years now and co-runs the Grass Valley Basketball League with Steve Matthews.

"Will has been real cool to keep it going covering us with insurance," Stafford said. "You have to pay $185 for a deposit you never get back, and it's $20 an hour. You can do the math. Playing three, four or five times a week, it gets expensive."

Open gym meetings were actually first created with the idea of being for parents and their kids, said Stafford. Nevada Union standout Kellie Cook and her dad, Ron, were among some of the first goers back at Deer Creek in the late 1980s. According to Stafford, there used to be 60-70 kids out there, and they would play for close to seven hours. We used to rent out Seven Hills for the kids so they had somewhere to play when it rained, added Stafford.

"We have rec leagues, but Nevada County doesn't have much for basketball," explained Stafford. "They added a skatepark. The softball and little leagues are big up here. The basketball leagues here can cost $70-100 per kid. The people running them have to rent out space."

It has been Stafford's mission to find ways to get kids off the couch and onto the court. As a dad and a passionate, consistent open gym player, Stafford knows the importance of helping out parents whenever possible, which is why the GVBL is specifically geared toward financial relief.

"I'm amazed at how many kids don't play anything," exclaimed Stafford. "We need to keep them busy. When something stops it dies here and once kids turn their interest to something else they're gone. Our youth league is $40 per kid and were sponsored by local businesses. We'll even pay for the kids who can't afford it."

Keir also has his sights set on fostering greater opportunities for community sports in the near future.

"Basketball is the start, but I'm open to sponsoring more sporting in the community, including volleyball, yoga and more," added Keir.

For more contact Lee Stafford at 530-320-1709 or visit

To contact Sports Writer Brian Shepard, call 530-477-4234 or email