By Ted Waddell
GRAHAMSVILLE March 26, 2004 College basketball fans know that the NCAA Division I Mens Basketball Tournament includes everything from Blue Devils to Huskies to Yellowjackets.
But in Grahamsville, March basketball includes donkeys. Thats right, donkeys.
On Monday night, a tightly knit group of faculty, staff, alumni and friends of Tri-Valley Central School jumped on the backs of a bunch of donkeys to play a game of donkey basketball to benefit the local track team.
Ten years ago, T-V athletic director and track coach Joe Mr. I Iatauro got the idea of staging a donkey basketball game to raise money for team outings, as the Bear and Lady Bear squads smoked up tracks far and wide.
Monday nights game cleared more than $1,200 to send T-Vs track athletes to all kinds of competitions out of the area, said Iatauro.
The people come out and the donkeys are very kind and amiable, he added.
Try telling that to a couple of riders, including T-V faculty member John Tenbus, who had a hard time staying on his mount. He jumped up on one side of the donkey only to slide off the other much to the amusement of the crowd.
Folks had a great time watching the riders kick up their heels and give a big hee haw as they were introduced to the standing room only crowd packed into the gymnasium.
The donkey-paced action wasnt exactly geared to a fast break, run-and-gun style of play, as sometimes riders had to pull their stubborn steeds under the glass.
But once there, a lot of donkeys seemed to get the idea that it was better to wait under the basket and let the ball come to them rather than engage in a race up and down the court.
A couple of donkeys appeared destined for the big show as they picked up the pace, dragging their riders around the floor in search of the big bucket.
At halftime, donkey wrangler and referee of the night Ed Day from Shaw Brothers Donkey Ball of Sayre, Pa., which bills itself as the See the Craziest Show in the World of Sports, got his critters to stand nose- to-nose in the center of the court for an impromptu petting zoo for the kids.
Donkeys are just like people, they all have different personalities, Day said. They are a gentle animal and very loving, but they can he stubborn.
While taking a break from the action, Jason Semo, a health teacher for students in fourth, fifth and sixth grades who also serves as head coach of the T-V boys varsity basketball team, spoke about the events importance.
Its one of the few family events we have here and its nice to see the community get together for a great cause, Semo said.
Cathy Bender, a 1988 T-V graduate, was a member of at least one state championship track team at her high school alma mater.
One of the schools first pole vaulters, in 1987 she was the states number one runner in cross country and a track star in events such as the 800-meter run.
The regular rules of riding dont apply, said Bender. The donkeys have wills of their own, and they have donkey personalities.
While a student at T-V, she ran track and cross country from the seventh grade through 12th grade. This was her third time participating in a donkey hoops game.
I like to help out with fundraising for the teams, Bender said.
Riders in T-Vs 2004 Donkey Basketball Game were: Jason Semo, Susan LaMonica, Paige Pinto, John Calabrese, Joe Iatauro, Brian Tingley, John Tenbus, John Rusin, Cathy Bender, Dave Moore, Dave Viglione, Elena Knight, Dan McCauliff, Karlton Duck and Rob Worden.
At the final buzzer, the Red Team out-donkeyed the Blue Team, 18-16.
The leading scorers with three buckets each were Bender, LaMonica and Pinto.
Donkey basketball is different, said Tingley, a biology teacher and an old hand at donkey basketball at T-V.
Some are runners and some are walkers, he added. If they dont want to, theyre not going to go where you want them to go.