HOPE — Participants in Saturday night’s Donkey Basketball event at Hauser High School had a hard enough time getting on and staying on the donkeys.

Referee Joe Sutton of Buckeye Donkey Ball only made things more challenging for the competitors when he would prod a donkey.

But that just added to the fun of the participants and the delight of the estimated 1,500 fans that witnessed a revival of Donkey Basketball in Hope after more than a decade absence.

“It is a lot tougher,” said Jenna Poe, who was twice dragged across the court by her donkey. “It’s a lot of work to get on the donkey, and then they make it do tricks, so it can be hard making the baskets. But it’s a lot of fun, and the kids and families love it.”

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Poe, the e-learning, curriculum and media specialist at Hauser, made the only basket for the faculty team in its semifinal loss to a squad of FFA students. A celebrity unit beat a team of alumni in the other semifinal and beat the FFA squad in overtime for the championship.

“You look at the crowd, and you can tell they’re into it,” said Mike Sullivan, production director and on-air personality at White River Broadcasting, who played on the celebrity team. “We’re not out here to be serious. If fact, we didn’t expect to go to the championship game.”

Players had to be on their donkeys to shoot, pass or advance the ball down the court. Otherwise, they could lead the donkeys around the floor on foot. That wasn’t as easy as it sounds.

“I had a tame donkey,” Sullivan said. “If you get one that’s real feisty, it’s tough because they’re going to go where they want to go. You don’t have any control … kind of like my normal basketball game — I have no control. Actually, I have less control playing because I don’t have to dribble here.”

The event was booked through Buckeye Donkey Ball of Columbus, Ohio, as a fundraiser for the Hauser athletics department. Booster club president Shawn Thayer, who organized the event, said the donkeys are treated humanely.

“(Buckeye Donkey Ball) is a family-owned outfit since 1934, and as far as we know, they’re well-fed, well-treated, and they are pack animals,” Thayer said.

Players, who had to wear helmets, were safe, as well. Hauser senior Isaiah Martin, who played for the FFA team, knew how to fall from an uncooperative donkey.

“You just have to land on your feet, or you’ll land on your face,” Martin said.

Donkey Basketball was making its return to Hope for the first time since the early 2000s and its debut at Hauser High School. The event was previously held at the Hope Community Center.

“The community center is in a little need of repair, and we thought it might be a little dangerous if somebody got thrown off, so we had it here,” Thayer said.

The high school was also needed to accommodate the large crowd.

“The turnout is fantastic,” Thayer said. “We have people from Seymour, Greensburg, Shelbyville, Edinburgh, Westport. They’ve come from all over. We even have people from out of state here.”

Participants were thrilled, as well.

“There’s a lot of rules that go with it, but it’s a lot of fun,” Martin said. “It was pretty awesome. This is probably the best time I’ve ever had.”

In fact, about the only people who didn’t have a good time were the five senior boys basketball players wearing white hazmat suits. They served as the “sanitation crew.”

“We kind of got volunteered by somebody else,” senior Dalton McKinney said. “He said ‘Oh, the seniors will do it.’”

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.