Donkey Basketball: Once Upon a Time in Weston
Last weekend, at the WFTA/Conservation Stewardship Saturday, a volunteer named Jimmy Florio (WHS ’77) mentioned that a game called Donkey Basketball used to be played at the high school or middle school gym in the 1970s. Being new to this whole semi-rural town thing, I had to ask if this was the game when you spelled out the word donkey as you make baskets or something like that. Umm, nope. Donkey Basketball was played with actual donkeys, with riders trying to shoot baskets. For the Owl, who spent two years on the Recreation Master Plan Committee, where policing of gum wrappers on turf is a thing, the idea of ten donkeys running around on wood courts just seemed like a way to yank the newbie-to-Weston’s chain.
And yet, it’s not fake news. From the mid- 1960s to the latter half of the 1970s, there was an annual fundraiser with Donkey Basketball–this is confirmed by sources in the classes of 1964, 1970, 1974 and 1977. Some Wildcat alums remember it as being only seniors involved, others remember it as male athletes. No one quibbles with the fact that rubber shoes were put over donkey hooves, then people would saddle up, and attempt to get their donkey to move down the court where the human (presumably not the donkey) would shoot a basket. In fact, pictures exist in 1970, 1974 and 1975 WHS yearbooks.
One story I heard involved a donkey that sat down under the basket and simply refused to move, so layups got a little more difficult. According to Jimmy, the only ones who get the donkeys to move were the Anzas, because they had livestock at their farm, and were quite prepared to make them hustle. On a side note, Jimmy’s stories were hilarious–the time the VW Bug was taken apart in shop class and re-assembled on top of the gym, the streaker down the hallways, and snapping turtles in the town pool on School Street. Some stories I shall not relate…back to Donkey Basketball…
With 1970s glasses on, Donkey Basketball seems pretty much the apex of hilarity…with 2020s view of animal care, and how these beasts must be so confused, it is a little less so. Or maybe not. As I looked for the actual rules of the game, I found a number of fundraising companies that still do Donkey Basketball (and Baseball???) events, mostly in the midwest and central south. You can see one site here called Dairyland Donkey Ball. The Chicago Tribune wrote an interesting article about the phenomenon in 2001.
Donkey Basketball seems to have moved out of Weston by the time 1980 arrived–again, the research intern has not verified this for sure–but it seems Donkey Basketball was in its heyday (hay day? ahahha, oh I crack myself up) in the 1967-1975ish era. Was there a local Weston donkey provider? Lincoln? Those crazy folks up in Westford? I have no answer. Just know that actual human basketball season starts soon, and though not as “funny”, it’s a bit less tough on the gym floors.
“As far as I recall,” said Jimmy Florio, “Donkey Basketball was phased out because of the damage the donkey urine did to the courts.” And with that, you’re up to date on Weston history for now.