The donkey is both the worst and the best animal to combine with sport. When it comes to motivation, cooperativeness, and athleticism, the donkey is distinctly lacking. A. A. Milne didn’t get the inspiration to write a character like Eeyore because he’d sensed a certain burning passion within the donkeys he knew. However, the beast’s characteristic obstinance creates quite a spectacle when he’s asked to compete. The dour expression the donkey always wears, like someone just did something unspeakable to his Cheerios, contrasts beautifully with that of his rider who is trying eagerly to persuade him to go along with a game of baseball or basketball. The donkey is open to such a suggestion, but ultimately has the final say over the matter.

Dairyland Donkey Ball is based in Chippewa Falls, WI, and is owned by CJ and Jessica Cordell,  who met and married while studying together at Texas A&M. Jessica’s family has been involved with donkey sports since they founded Buckeye Donkey Ball in Ohio back in 1934; Her grandfather, Bob Crosby, also ran Crosby Donkey Ball from 1961 until 1999. CJ, who was born in Louisiana and raised in Texas and accordingly has an accent that brings both zydeco and country music to mind, was all for taking up Jessica’s family trade after graduation.

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“My degree is in dairy science, but donkey ball made a lot more sense to us than getting stuck under a mountain of debt building up a farm,” said CJ. “We started out in 2004 with one truck, a trailer, and just enough donkeys to form a couple of basketball teams. Over the years we’ve had as many as 75 head, but now we keep a more manageable 42.

“They’re stubborn as all get out, so you have to learn to live with that — otherwise you won’t like donkeys too much. Try taking one somewhere they’ve never been before, even if it’s only through a different door than they’re accustomed to, and they just won’t have it. Sometimes they sneak out to go the hay field, or to eat my wife’s flowers. Other than that, they’re pretty easy to get along with. You’ve go to be careful to keep the dogs away from them, though. Donkeys are pretty nasty when they decide to stand their ground, and are often used to protect livestock. They’ll think nothing of stomping a coyote’s head in, or even fighting wolves and bears. If a dog does get into their enclosure, he’ll realize he made a big mistake fast.”

Like human professional athletes, the Cordells’ donkeys enjoy life at its very best when they’re not at work. Not that it would be LeBron’s cup of tea, but having 115 acres of glacial drumlin to graze and loll around on suits a donkey just perfectly. Life on the road is a posh affair for the donkeys as well, with their customized trailer replete with insulation, windows, all you can eat hay, and performance horse feed on every game day. Even if the convoy overnights at a field large enough for the donkeys to scatter and bed down in, by morning they’re lined up and raring to proceed onward.

Donkey basketball, baseball, and racing are fascinating, with the human participants doing everything within their power to win, and the donkeys only marginally aware that there’s a competition going on, and even less invested in its outcome. It’s not altogether uncommon for a donkey to stop wherever he pleases in spite of any of his rider’s protestations otherwise. (Dairyland Donkey Ball provides a dedicated attendant to deal with the ramifications of a donkey’s nonchalance toward modern bathroom etiquette.)

Anyone is welcome to ride one of the donkeys during a big event, provided that they weigh no greater than 225 pounds and have the patience which the endeavor calls for. Groups may invite prominent members of their community, the mayor and doctors and lawyers and such, to ride the donkeys, and in the case of a benefit for a youth sports team the kids may ride as well.

“Dairyland Donkey Ball is for any organization that wants to raise money, whatever it might be for,” explained CJ. “It’s a tiny payment if you’d like us to come out — usually just $125 upfront to cover our insurance. We’ll take care of all the advertising, ticket sales, and help with the coordination. At the end of the night, if the proceeds amount to less than $3,000, we’ll take 60 percent; more than that and we’ll split it 50/50.”

Without a doubt, donkey sports are a greater draw than any bake sale or charity auction could ever hope to be. If you’ve little to invest but would still like to organize a fundraising event that’ll have everyone in town talking, then you need do no more than visit dairylanddonkeyball.com.

 

By David Scheller