Donkey Basketball. It’s a Thing.

Because it’s hard to say no to something that might be fodder for a column, I found myself on a Friday evening in March at the Algood Middle School gymnasium. With a slice of piping hot Little Caesar’s pepperoni pizza in hand, I snagged a front row bleacher seat on the half-court line and settled in to watch what I hoped would be a rousing game of donkey basketball.

Donkey basketball??? What’s that???

For starters, it’s a unique way for cash-strapped organizations—schools, for instance—to raise funds. But its purpose is also to entertain everyone who comes to watch. This is the second year in a row Algood Middle has hosted the event to raise money for the baseball team. Organizer Melissa Cherry, a guidance counselor at AMS, contracted with Circle-A Donkeys out of Henry County, Tennessee to provide the donkeys and run the show. Then she set about rounding up AMS faculty and staff brave enough to climb onto the animals’ backs and play basketball. Or at least to attempt it.

“None of our players have experience with donkeys,” Melissa confessed when I interviewed her shortly before tip-off. “To be honest, I’m not sure many of them know much about basketball, either.”

How right she was. Helmeted players led (or, in some cases, pushed and pulled) their donkeys, all of which wore rubber shoes so as not to damage the gym floor, onto the court with  ropes that would also serve as reins. Donkeys wore halters, not bits and bridles. And no saddles. This promised to be bareback riding at its best, right?

Well…not exactly. Players were required to mount their donkeys without assistance. Some were bucked off before they got settled on good. Others, for a variety of reasons, never managed to scramble aboard. A couple of them tried to mount from the right (which is actually the wrong) side. Several never understood that their best bet was to stand parallel to their donkey’s back and spring aboard by bending their knees, straightening both arms and throwing one leg over.

Thank goodness for the handful of players who somehow managed to get on and stay on. Those wearing their thinking caps as well as their helmets steered their donkeys near the goal and waited for a pass. Donkey basketball rules clearly state that players must be mounted not only to shoot the basketball but also to pass it. That didn’t happen. One-handed passes were thrown by players leading donkeys with their other hand and were caught one-handed by mounted players attempting to shoot while holding their donkeys still. A few players simply spent all their time trying to capture the donkeys that had escaped from them.

.At the end of the first half, the score was tied at six. Somewhat reluctantly, I headed for home and my TV. March Madness was in full swing and I thought it might be fun to compare that kind of basketball with donkey basketball. Unfortunately, I don’t have space left in this column for that. Because I want to tell more about the amazing beasts of burden that entertained me that night.

Donkeys can’t be housebroken. No surprise, right? This means that a manure clean-up crew must be constantly at-the-ready, which is immensely entertaining. Donkeys don’t neigh like horses. They hee-haw. It’s a sound that’ll make every spectator sit up and take notice. Donkeys are strong, intelligent and not easily spooked. They also have an impressive instinct for self-preservation, which is often and mistakenly called stubbornness. This is to their definite advantage not only when called upon to pull a plow or haul heavy loads across vast distances, but also when schoolteachers try to climb onto their backs to play basketball.

Thanks for the laughs, Circle-A Donkeys and Algood Middle School. I hope to be back for next year’s game. Who knows? I might even volunteer to play.

(Jennie Ivey is a Cookeville writer. Her email is [email protected])