Donkey basketball 'madness' benefits FFA chapter
Fundraising game raises thousands for student ag group
By JOHN O'CONNELL
College basketball coined the term March Madness for its annual 64-team elimination tournament. The words perhaps more fittingly describe the spectacle hosted March 19 by the American Falls High School Chapter of FFA.
In the tournament -- a fundraiser to help send members to state and national competitions -- players had to shoot, pass and play defense while riding donkeys.
Teammates were more apt to fall on their backs than to make a basket, and the donkeys lent an element of surprise to the sport, with athletes heading for breakaway lay-ups routinely veering in the wrong direction at the last moment.
American Falls sophomore Colin Jensen was bucked off his donkey four times. On one occasion, he attempted to hop on one foot, with his other foot tangled in the harness as his donkey ran the length of the high school's gymnasium.
"You can't control it at all. They're all over the place," Jensen said after his game. "You try to go right, it goes left. You try to slow down, it runs. You go where they want to go."
Donkey basketball player Tammy Ramsey, whose farm and ranch sponsors the FFA chapter, added, "You just got to hang on and hope for the best. I stayed on my animal, but I was nowhere near the ball."
Players must sign waivers and wear helmets. They're allowed off their donkeys only to chase rebounds. Even then they're required to pull their donkeys along with them.
The donkeys were supplied by Donkey Sports, Inc., based in Entiat, Wash. The business has hosted donkey sport tournaments since the early 1960s in 12 Western states.
Donkey Sports operator Aaron Shirley said the vast majority of the fundraisers are for FFA chapters.
"We're ag-based. We have an outfitting business and we ranch. We raise other livestock, as well," Shirley said. "This is just one of the many things we do in the ag world."
The business hosts about 180 basketball games per year and offers donkey baseball. Shirley explained Donkey Sports, which receives a share of the gate from events, is the sole remaining donkey sports provider in the western U.S.
The American Falls fundraiser, in its third year, raises between $1,000 and $2,500 and helps FFA cover half the cost of student expenses. With 112 members, the chapter is the high school's largest student group. It assists the community through cleanups and by tending to public gardens, including one at the local senior citizens center, said adviser Marc Beitia.
The chapter's vice president, Neil Andersen, enjoyed playing in last year's donkey basketball tournament. More importantly, the event has helped him make three trips to the state FFA leadership conference, where his team has finished third in livestock judging, and two trips to nationals. Andersen, whose family manages a 500-head cattle herd, hopes to become an agricultural teacher.