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Sweat stood on Matt Treadway’s head and neck after one of the most strenuous 10 minutes of basketball he ever had played.
He often moved the ball up and down the court to evade defenders and sink shots, but Monday night was the first time he had done so while dragging a straining donkey behind him.
Donkey basketball at Lakewood Elementary School in Stephensburg was used as a fundraiser to make improvements to the school’s playground.
Treadway, an exceptional education teacher at West Hardin Middle School, scooped the ball and dragged the chest-high donkey behind him until the other players began to pass him on his way to the goal.
He passed the ball to a teammate riding a more cooperative mount to score.
“The donkey wouldn’t let me get on it,” he said. “Every time I tried, he’d drop his head and turn around.”
Treadway said the sport is much harder than regular basketball.
“There’s really no strategy at all,” he said. “It’s just try your best to get on a donkey.”
Ticket sales brought in $1,769 and proceeds from concessions hadn’t been tallied Tuesday.
Lakewood Principal Shelee Clark said that amount was a good start.
The idea was suggested at the school by an assistant principal who saw the game played when he used to work in Edmonson County.
Clark was incredulous when she heard about the sport, so she and some co-workers watched the furry athletes and their riders on YouTube.
“I said, we’re going to go out and do it because it’s going to be fun,” she said.
Lakewood officials received several calls after advertising the event from people asking what donkey basketball is or saying they had seen it played as children and were looking forward to seeing it again, Clark said.
The school sold out of advance tickets by Monday afternoon and sold another 100 at the door, until the gym was filled to capacity, she said.
“We expected a pretty full house,” she said.
An audience of more than 500 spectators chanted, “Donkeys, donkeys,” until those star athletes trotted onto the gym floor at the school.
Some players reached a standstill during the game when their donkeys refused to move, no matter how hard they pulled.
Clark was nervous as she watched the chaos on the court and knew her turn was approaching.
Her only strategy to ride to victory was to stay on the donkey and not get hurt.
“It’s funnier to watch people you know do it than to do it yourself,” she said.
Russ Pike, a special education math and science teacher and wrestling coach at Central Hardin High School, lost hold of his donkey’s reins during the first game.
The donkey, Howard, ran up and down the court with the others with Pike chasing after him.
Howard would stop at the end of the court long enough for Pike to get near and try to sneak up on him with an outstretched hand. Just before Pike could grab the reins, Howard would wheel around and race to the other end of the court. The chase lasted a few breathless minutes for Pike.
“They don’t have good brakes,” he said. “I could not catch him. I couldn’t get on this little donkey. They’re squirrely little dudes.”
Pike learned about donkey basketball from a student and he thought it sounded like fun.
“It was a blast,” he said.
The best part was hearing the crowd yelling throughout the whole game, Pike said.
Lakewood fifth-grader Bailey Richardson said she went to the game with her friends so they could see their teachers get bucked off their donkeys.
Fellow Lakewood fifth-grader Makaela Mueller thought the teachers were joking when they said they were going to bring real donkeys into the school.
The game was better than Makaela thought it would be because of the crowd.
She also was happy to know proceeds would help improve the school’s playground.
Amber Coulter can be reached at (270) 505-1746 or email@example.com.