(Alexandria, MN) After seeing all of the new construction plans for Alexandria's Veterans Memorial Park, the Matt Kjelland Memorial Foundation started to brainstorm what could be done with the aging basketball courts just to the south. An answer ties to events that took place nearly four years ago.
Going back to September of 2016, Mike Kjelland faced the challenge of losing his son Matt. Matt was a 2004 graduate of Jefferson High School who loved the sport of basketball. His death fueled the development of the foundation, bringing scholarships to local students and awareness to the struggles of mental illness and suicide prevention. Mike was dealt another significant blow this past February when he lost his wife Sue as well.
Initially the annual Matt Kjelland Memorial Walk/Run on September 26th was cancelled and a Memorial Family Picnic, in honor of both Matt and Sue, was planned for this weekend. That event has been now cancelled as well.
A bright light in all of this challenge is the opportunity to do something special with Legion Park. Mike says "A couple of our Foundation Board Directors, Chuck Wiener and his son Andrew, have been the point guys on moving the project along over this past year." He says the two spent many hours of work with promotion, design, communications, coordinating efforts in working with the City to make this happen and more.
Andrew Wiener remembers his neighbor and inseparable friend Matt Kjelland. The two lived in Alexandria homes that had backyards that connected to one another. Their families spent a lot of time together as well. Chuck and Barb Wiener can attest to the many hours the two boys spent together from about age four on into high school. Andrew says Matt would be shooting baskets until late at night, often to the chagrin of other less basketball loving neighbors.
Fast forward to this project. The Foundation committed to making it happen. They offered to pay for the basketball hoops and backboards if the city could take care of the rest. City Parks Director Bill Thoennes added the necessary enthusiasm to make it happen. With the okay from the city council and funds to pave, paint and set up the hoops, Thoennes moved full steam ahead. Bill says the sport court people came in and set the six basketball hoops in place, Mark Lee Paving took care of the pavement by Friday night (July 31) and on Sunday all the hoops were erected. He says the city street department, who usually are painting traffic markings, were able to paint the three full-length courts on the following Monday. By Monday night, people were already playing. Andrew describes in his own words what it was like to show up that evening to see the courts in use. (AUDIO BELOW)
Thoennes says that so far the people using the courts have been respectful, have cleaned up after themselves and made it a successful start to the seasonal entertainment. He adds that lighting is a bit of an issue since only half of the courts are lit enough to play at night. A future investment by the city to add better lighting is in the works. Meanwhile signage will soon go up recognizing it as the Matt Kjelland Memorial Courts.
Mike says this basketball court project is "A wonderful tribute to Matt and Sue, an awesome recreational area for people of all ages to go and have fun and compete. This project fits nicely into our mission of health and wellness, specifically mental health, by providing a facility for more kids and adults to participate, develop relationships, and stay healthy." Mike and Andrew agree that the Matt Kjelland Memorial Courts are a perfect legacy in Matt's honor, "because basketball was his thing!"
With it's major fundraiser for 2020 cancelled if you'd like to contribute to the Matt Kjelland Memorial Foundation simply contact the foundation via their Facebook page.