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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

Tired of all those bake sales to raise money for school projects? Well, heres an unusual alternative straight from small town America, donkey basketball. Yeah, its pretty much what it sounds like. North Country Public Radios David Sommerstein reports.

DAVID SOMMERSTEIN: The line snakes out the door of the Edwards-Knox school gymnasium. Fifty-fifty raffle tickets sell like hotcakes. Seven hundred people, almost a quarter of the towns population are here to watch the seniors and alumni face off as they try to tame the notoriously untamable donkey. In the locker room, Mr. Shaw, the donkey trainer psyches up the seniors.

Mr. SHAW (Donkey trainer, Shaw Brothers Donkey Ball Company): What do we have to do to get our donkeys to go?

SENIORS: Go.

Mr. SHAW: I said how do you get your donkeys to go?

SENIORS: Go.

SOMMERSTEIN: Shaws father and uncle started this business in 1952. There are a handful of other donkey basketball companies around the country. They run the whole show and charge the school a cut of the proceeds. The game is what youd thing. You run up and down the court with your donkeys. The only rule is you have to be riding when you shoot. Senior Morgan Laplante says she's never ridden a donkey before.

Ms. MORGAN LAPLANTE (Senior, donkey basketball player): Im afraid Im going to fall off and get kicked or something.

SOMMERSTEIN: Laplante says her friends are even more nervous about the pre-game introductions which she refers to as simply the he-haw.

Ms. LAPLANTE: You stand in the middle of the gym and you have to kick your back feet up and go He-haw.

SOMMERSTEIN: By most accounts the first donkey basketball game here was in 1981. Many of the parents in the stands he-hawed when they were seniors. Without out much fanfare, the players lead the donkeys in from the cold night and the game begins.

(Soundbite of whistle blowing)

SOMMERSTEIN: Donkeys prance in all directions dragging their riders by the reigns. A boy dangles from his donkey. Then it lurches to a stop and he tumbles head over heels. Oh, and sometimes a basketball is tossed around.

(Soundbite of crowd)

SOMMERSTEIN: In a word the donkeys act stubborn. Heres a good place to mention that not everyone loves donkey basketball. People for the ethical treatment of animals accuses the donkey handlers of depriving the animals of food and drink so they wont pee or poop on the gym floor. Mr. Shaw denies that. He even makes messes a part of the show.

Mr. SHAW: Juniors, I found something you can do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHAW: Attention Wal-Mart shoppers, we have a spill in aisle seven.

SOMMERSTEIN: The criticisms of donkey basketball feel far-away here where most families use sheep or horses or cows for all kinds of chores and fun. Junior Chris Kirkpatrick says he cant wait for his turn next year.

Mr. CHRIS KIRKPATRICK (Junior): We can fool around, look stupid, why not, and you dont get in trouble for it.

SOMMERSTEIN: In other words, you get to act like a jackass.

For NPR News, Im David Sommerstein in Canton, New York.

(Soundbite of music)

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