By Bill Eagle
Valley Bugler Columnist
It was a sunny Saturday and a mob composed of children and adults clamored to gain entrance to the St. Helens High School gymnasium. Some had tickets in hand, others patiently waited for the ticket window to open.
Finally the main doors opened and a joyful crowd surged inside.
A man wearing a Kiwanis hat announced: “Don’t worry, we have lots of good seats. You have plenty of time before the game.”
Before people entered the gym proper, they were greeted to a silent auction and given an opportunity to bid on gift baskets or buy Plastic fire hats filled with popcorn. A concession stand offered popcorn, cookies, soft drinks, and candy at prices under a dollar.
“We try and keep our prices low so that all families can enjoy themselves,” said Fire Chief Jay Tappan.
The game began. The donkeys were led out into the gymnasium; the animals wore rubber booties and amused expressions.
Our Community game consisted of two teams, the Police versus Fire Department.
“Guns verse Hoses” chuckled Fire Chief Tappan. “The police beat us last year because they had a ringer. One of the ladies on the Police force used to play semi pro.”
Funds raised at the event are donated directly to Student College Scholarships, and to food & toy charities for needy children.
The rules of the game were simple. Riders sit on a donkey and pass the ball to each other. No one dribbles, and you must be astride a donkey when you shoot.
Several animals walked in different directions while others remained stationary. Balls were passed and both sides made baskets, and the donkeys appeared as if they were enjoying themselves.
At half time, children were encouraged to come down and pet the donkeys.
“Oh, he feels so soft” said a little girl.
The donkeys were well behaved.
People that ride the donkeys have to sign a waiver. They also are not allowed to hit, kick or pull on the donkey’s ears, hair or tails.
Bruce Wick, President of Donkey Sports Inc., told me that some animal rights groups, like PETA, are opposed to Donkey Basketball. He said, “PETA and other groups have accused us of abusing animals. Our donkeys like people and are used to loud sounds. They all love people petting them.”
“I looked at all of PETA’s concerns,” continued Wick, “ and the only complaint that they might have is weight. We now make sure that no one weighing over 200 pounds is allowed to ride our animals.”
Wick and his wife have been in this business since 1980. They have never had a donkey injured in a game or become sick from traveling. When a donkey becomes a good player, they have a long career in donkey basketball, according to Wick.
“It’s my hope that donkey basketball is viewed as a wholesome family event, giving young spectators a chance to see and pet real donkeys. Through the years, we have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for good causes.”
As a member of our St Helens Community, I know that Donkey Basketball has been a fun fund raiser for us. We have gained from it, our community has gained for it, and believe it or not, I think that the donkeys have benefited from it as well!