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Update: Donkey Basketball cancelled due to Thursday's weather advisories

The event has not been rescheduled at this time.

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Austin Smith from the school staff team receives a pass under the hoop in a matchup with WHS seniors during the April 2018 Donkey Basketball contets.
(Tim Middagh/The Globe)

Wednesday 4 p.m. Update:
Donkey Basketball has been canceled for Thursday evening due to the incoming winter weather and advisories, according to King Turkey Day President Susanne Murphy.
The traveling donkey group is reluctant to travel with the predicted winter storm.
Going into spring activities — and considering the donkeys' schedules, there has not been another date set at this time.

Original post: Donkey Basketball returns Thursday for King Turkey Day fundraiser

WORTHINGTON — Unload a trailer full of rubber-shoe wearing donkeys onto the Worthington High School gymnasium and pair them with adults who will attempt to ride them bareback while playing a game of basketball and what do you get?

Mayhem! And lots of laughter.

Worthington’s King Turkey Day committee is bringing Donkey Basketball to town Thursday evening, and doors to the high school open at 5 p.m. The first 400 ticket holders will receive a pulled pork sandwich meal, followed by the ultimate spectator sport. The games are set to begin at 7 p.m., following a riders' meeting in which participants will hear the rules and safety tips.

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“For $8, you get a meal and a whole evening of entertainment and total laughter,” said Susanne Murphy, president of King Turkey Day, of the advance ticket price. Tickets may be purchased at the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce or online at kingturkeyday.org. Tickets at the door are $10.

The trained donkeys used for Thursday evening’s event hail from Wisconsin.

“They are well trained as far as we don’t usually have very many runaways,” Murphy said with a laugh. “We have some that are very docile, and some that are not. The variety makes a perfect blend for laughter.”

The first round will feature riders from Head Start versus members of the Young Professionals Network. In the second round, District 518 staff will face off against Worthington High School seniors. The championship game will include the winners of the first and second rounds, and preceding that game, there will be an intermission during which young kids in the audience will be welcome to take a free ride on a donkey.

“When you put a young child on (the donkey), they become the perfect pet,” Murphy said. “It’s a great photo opportunity and a good experience for the kids.”

Four donkeys will be used by each team during the games, with each team providing eight riders so people can switch out.

“Sometimes people are laughing so hard they can’t get on a donkey,” Murphy said. That’s when reinforcements come in. “You can bring a box along to make sure (your teammate) gets on.”

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WHS student Eric Heidebrink teases LeeAnn Barduson from the school staff team with the ball as he rides past on his way to the hoop during the match-up in 2018.
(Tim Middagh/The Globe)

While the goal of each game is to score the most points by making baskets — while seated upon a donkey — it is not an easy feat.

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“Sometimes the donkey will run toward the basket and then stop on a dime,” Murphy said. The result is the ball will either go flying — or the rider.

This is the third time King Turkey Day has brought Donkey Basketball to town as a fundraiser. It was so successful in 2018 and 2019, that the committee had planned to bring them back. The pandemic put an extended break on those plans.

“It’s a huge fundraiser for us,” Murphy said. “This being the 50th year of turkey racing, we have an expanded budget.”

While Murphy said people haven’t stopped laughing about some of the stories generated by the 2019 Donkey Basketball games, she appreciates the community support to bring them back.

“The school has been wonderful working with this,” she said. “The donkeys wear rubber boots to protect the floor.”

Murphy and other KTD board members are on the clean-up crew for the messier habits of the four-legged farm animals.

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Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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