“Seriously? You only had to go 10 more feet for a layup!”
The donkey and its rider had been plodding, oh-so-slowly, toward the basket. No donkey will run unless it wants to. The rider shot, but fell short.
Announcer Joe Brandl, beloved ex-scoutmaster and Naked-but-Unafraid wilderness survival expert, kept up a steady stream of banter from the sidelines (I don’t know how he did it!), while sometimes batting back a loose basketball.
What do you do for fun in April, when town is quiet and the snow flurries just don’t stop? You crowd the school gym and watch bareback donkey basketball, of course. (For charity, of course.)
Donkey basketball — that’s right, basketball with players mounted on donkeys — is the occasional fund-raising event for Needs of Dubois (NOD), which helps residents who need emergency assistance in times of trouble. This week, NOD also helped residents who needed a good laugh, and there were plenty of them (both residents and laughs).
“That donkey has longer legs than you do!” Joe calls out to someone on the students’ team. “How you gonna get on?” The donkey stands patiently, thank heaven, for what seems an eternity, as she tries to jump on its back. A referee walks over and gives a boost. The student blushes. The first game begins.
There are 3 rounds in this tournament: wilderness program participants versus students, students against teachers, teachers against phone company employees.
The rules, as posted on the NOD website, sound reasonable but are entirely ridiculous.
Players must be riding their donkeys, both feet off the ground on both sides, to shoot baskets or play defense. Players are not allowed to go anywhere on the court without their donkey, but there is no out-of-bounds for donkeys. (It seemed the donkeys knew this rule.)
You may dismount to catch a loose ball, but you must always take the donkey with you, keeping a hand on a rein, and you must return the ball and re-mount the donkey within 15 seconds or get a penalty.
Have you tried to hurry a donkey? The term “chasing the ball” takes on a whole new context. Not understanding this rule of the game, any donkey dragged after a loose ball seems to be working for the other team.
“Move it!” Joe shouts. “Move it! Clearly, you’re no mule whisperer.”
Bucking broncos we’re used to. But bucking donkeys? Gimme a break. The ass brays, kicks and rumbles, and throws the player. (Ouch! That’s a gym floor, not rodeo dirt.) The action stops. The mule-buster (typical!) smiles and remounts. We hoot and cheer.
“Meanwhile,” Joe says from the sidelines, “we’re still playing basketball ….”
Until you’ve watched it, you can’t begin to understand how difficult it must be to steer a donkey, bareback, while trying to hold onto a basketball. At one point in the third round, it seems that all of the players are off their mounts, wandering around the court like lost souls. One player regains his mount, and the donkey takes off like a shot — in the wrong direction.
“Complete control,” Joe drawls. “You got this. Thanks for the entertainment.”
Actually there were plenty of scores — nothing in the high double-figures, as in any ordinary basketball game, but enough to keep up the pace. Of course there was a wide range in skill sets, from old-time wranglers to newcomers just relocated West. Adults played better than kids. Teacher Jessica was the slam-dunk champion. Center Craig kept a smile throughout (he had the easy part, always standing on both feet). Hailey looked like she was being a good sport, focused on not falling off.
The school-teacher Donkey Kongs kicked the phone-company DTE Assets 14-8 in a last-minute surge, to win the championship.
In case you’re wondering about the floor, the donkeys were wearing boots and this event took place near the end of the school year, just before the floor gets refinished.
Although the half-time clowns played around with the idea that something other than a ball might drop, the floor stayed remarkably clean.
© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.