Donkeys, basketball combine to raise $2K

Published 11:52 am Sunday, February 21, 2016

Teams compete in the Donkey Ball game at Hayfield Community Schools on Feb. 15. Photos by LeAnn Fischer/

Teams compete in the Donkey Ball game at Hayfield Community Schools on Feb. 15. Photos by LeAnn Fischer/

What do donkeys, basketball and eager players have in common? Donkey ball.

“Well it is exactly what it sounds,” Hayfield FFA Advisor Nathan Thompson said. “We have eight donkeys on the court with rubber-shoed hooves so they don’t scratch the floor, they are trained animals as far as to buck or stop or duck, and we play full on full basketball while riding a donkey.”

Hayfield FFA Donkey Ball, sponsored by the Hayfield FFA Alumni, started more than 12 years ago, about the time Hurricane Katrina took place. The event was brought in as a fundraiser to raise money for those effected by the storm. Ever since, the Hayfield FFA has brought back the event about every other year and has raised money for many things, including farmers when Rushford, Minnesota, flooded; Heifer International, which gives a ruminant animal to a third-world family to be self-sustaining; equipment for the agricultural and industrial department in the school and more.

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This year’s funds, just under $2,000, were used to raise money to replacement old shop tables in Hayfield Community Schools that have been around for more than 50 years.

Two players arm wrestle to break a tie-breaker.

Two players arm wrestle to break a tie-breaker.

“It was time to update,” Thompson said.

Organizers hope to redo three or four table tops, which are hardwood maple.

About 300 people showed up to this year’s event on Feb. 15. Three games were played — the Brownsdale Fire Department against the Hayfield FFA Alumni; the Hayfield teachers against the ag students/FFA members; and the championship game between the Brownsdale Fire Department and the ag studetns/FFA members, with the FFA members winning 5 to 3.

Thompson said the “competition” is all in good fun.

“This is just to be silly, there’s very few people that have ever hopped on a horse, let alone rode a donkey, that have done this event,” he said.

All players wear helmets, and elbow and knee pads are also available upon request. The donkeys come from Dairyland Donkey Ball out of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and the animals are well taken care of, according to Thompson. The donkeys are fed and watered both before and after the game, and they are trained to follow the owner’s commands.

There are also rules regarding the animals, such as no hitting, slapping, or standing on the donkeys, a weight limit of about 225 pounds, and anything that could possibly harm the animal is not allowed. The minimum age to ride is 16.

“Everybody goes through donkey-rider training before they can get on,” he said.

“The public has just a great time, it’s just an amazing time,” he added. “It’s good, community-friendly, clean fun.”

The FFA chapter also bought T-shirts for all the players with sponsor names on the back, and free donkey rides were offered to children 12 and under during halftime.

“It’s a hoot,” Thompson said.

While the fundraiser is a fun event for everyone — students, administrators, parents and community members — it also helps teach FFA students about getting sponsorships, as they had to talk with business owners for the event, as well as organize the door prizes and the event, write and send letters, get contracts signed, write the script for the emcee, and other tasks. These build communication skills, as well as organizational skills, time management and other important life lessons. There were more than 65 door prizes from 12 area businesses, and another eight businesses sponsored the donkeys.

FFA is for students from seventh grade through age 21. The event is always held close to National FFA Week, which is Feb. 20-27, depending on how booked Donkey Ball is. Thompson described the sport as popular, as there was recently a game in Blooming Prairie and will be one soon in Goodhue.

FFA works off three main models: the classroom, Supervised Agriculture Experience or SAE, and the FFA competition/community service/leadership development. In the classroom, students learn about what it means to be in FFA; in the SAE portion, students learn by doing; and on the competitive side, students learn through competing as well as community service.

FFA students also get the chance to work with a local business or farmer through SAE.

“That’s where kids can take the knowledge they learn in the class and use it in work outside of school, working for an employer or farmer,” Thompson said.

He noted the program helps students gain many skills that will help shape their future.

“It really teaches a lot of aspects of FFA to our youth,” he said. “And the big thing is it even helps them find a passion and grow it, or it helps them see the significance that hands-on programs can provide, and it gives them other options that they could possibly turn into a career.”

There are about 65,000 FFA members nationwide, and Hayfield has about 65 in its chapter. Thompson co-instructs with Jessie Beucler.

For national FFA week, Hayfield FFA members will hold a pancake feed from 7:30 to 11 a.m. Thursday at the ag department at Hayfield High School. Thompson expects to serve about 500 people for the annual event, which has been going on more than 50 years.

Students will also hold an ag olympics Friday from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the Hayfield High School gymnasium, where they will have frozen turkey bowling, finding a penny in a haystack and other events. The whole week will feature mini FFA contests going during student lunch periods.