CHARLOTTESVILLE — Kelli Brown thought that joining the faculty team for the annual donkey basketball game sounded like fun.
So in 2015, when an email went out seeking volunteers for a staff team, Brown, an English teacher at Eastern Hancock High School, signed on the dotted line to shoot baskets from the backside of a donkey for a good cause. But that was before she met the beast she’d be riding for the annual FFA fundraiser.
“That donkey had my number from the minute I got on him,” said Brown, who laughingly remembers at least one epic spill across the gym floor.
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This year, she’ll be cheering from the sidelines for the game, which tips off at 7 p.m. Friday at the high school, 10320 E. County Road 250N. Tickets go for $8 at the door or $6 in advance from any Eastern Hancock FFA member or by emailing [email protected]. A freewill donation chili supper precedes the game at 5 p.m.
Sarah Williams, an agriculture teacher at Eastern in her fifth year, also serves as FFA sponsor and has been working for months to put all the details in place for the game.
That includes booking the four-legged participants from Buckeye Donkey Ball, an Ohio company that, according to a photo on its website, has been supplying mounts for donkey basketball, baseball and donkey racing across a 16-state area since the Great Depression.
Due to the popularity of the sport, Williams books the donkeys at least six months in advance.
Then, she has to secure players and teach them the basics of donkey basketball, which go something like this:
Teams of four players and four donkeys start at the opposite ends of the basketball court, and a ball is thrown into the middle to start the game.
Players pull their stubborn counterparts to the center to reach the ball, then can pick up and throw the ball in an effort to get closer to the basket. To carry the ball any distance or take a shot at the basket, they must be mounted on their donkey. Four teams are bracketed to play against each other, with the winners from the first round playing for the championship.
Team participation rotates around through various school clubs and community organizations. In past years, teams have been assembled from faculty members, the senior class, 4-H groups and the local Lions Club.
This year, FFA groups from Greenfield-Central High School and Mt. Vernon High School will join Eastern Hancock in competing against the Indiana state FFA officers. Proceeds from the event go to help send FFA members to camps, conventions and competitions.
Williams is amazed by the amount of parent and community support for the event. In addition to the chili supper and the donkey ball game, a silent auction featuring items donated by area businesses will also raise funds.
And no one can say the auction won’t offer variety.
“Everything from bowling passes, dog food, restaurant gift cards, home decor and a couple of pigs will be auctioned off,” said Williams.
As for Friday night’s game, organizers expect the gym to be packed.
And Brown knows why — she gave the crowd plenty to stay entertained when she participated two years ago.
In the 2015 game, Brown’s donkey seemed to behave appropriately until the crowd began to laugh and applaud. He quickly let her know that he was the boss in this situation. He bowed his head and Brown did a somersault onto the floor.
“I don’t know if my donkey was trying to be funny or purposely being obstinate,” Brown said, “but I could never get control of him and that led to great hilarity.”
Brown felt fortunate that her donkey didn’t lie down and roll around on the floor like some did – or that she never needed the services of the “poop squad,” assigned to rush the floor in case of inevitable accidents.
Brown will enjoy the festivities from a safe distance this year, but she’s not ruling out another go at the sport some day.
“I wouldn’t say never,” Brown said, “but somebody would have to beg me or at least donate a large sum of money to charity.”
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“I don’t know if my donkey was trying to be funny,” Brown said, “or purposely being obstinate.”
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What: Donkey Basketball
Who: Eastern Hancock FFA hosts teams from Mt. Vernon and Greenfield-Central
Where: Eastern Hancock High School, 10320 E. County Road 250N, Charlottesville
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Details: The game is preceded by a freewill donation chili supper beginning at 5:00 p.m. Tickets are $6 in advance from any Eastern Hancock FFA member or $8 at the door. Contact Sarah Williams at [email protected] with any questions.