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Central Kitsap High hosts Navy vs. Marine Corps in charity donkey basketball game

   - Courtesy Photo
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

A charity basketball game between arch rivals the Navy and Marine Corps Saturday may get ugly - especially if they have to stop and scoop poop.

Not from the sailors or Marines, but from the donkeys.

Players in the fundraiser for the Central Kitsap Food Bank will passing and shooting baskets atop trained donkeys in the gymnasium of the Central Kitsap High School.

And despite the bluster and bravado of the players, Bruce Wick, owner of Donkey Sports, Inc., said they won't have as much control over the donkeys' performance as they may think. The donkeys are herded across the basketball court by the referees, "pretty much like you would herd them in a pasture," he said.

"To the crowd, it looks like the riders are doing it," Wick said, adding jokingly, "Usually we don't tell the truth on this."

Carol Ungren, event coordinator and board member of the CK Food Bank, said it was about time the donkey athletes return to Central Kitsap. The last time they performed here was in 1997, when Ungren organized a game at King's West, now known as Crosspoint Academy.

"It's hysterical - absolutely hysterical," said Carol Ungren.

Players can only shoot and pass if they are securely on the donkey. When one team makes a basket, the referee circles the donkeys back to the other end of the court.

The donkeys wear rubber shoes to protect the playing surfaces, and there are weight restrictions on the riders for the donkeys' safety. Staff are on hand to clean up any donkey waste, but the donkeys rarely urinate - there's a lot going on in the game to distract them, Wick said.

Participants in the game said they had never heard of donkey basketball, but were ready to compete.

"Riding a donkey is going to be challenging," said Marine Staff Sgt. Craig Shafer. "It is going to be quite an experience."

Shafer and teammate Sgt. Trevor Smith were confident of their chances at ousting the Navy.

"They're going to get owned," Smith said.

But Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Zeltinger had a little reminder for them.

"The Marine Corps is a department in the Navy and we own them," he joked.

Wick has been in the donkey sports business since 1980, when he bought his Entiat, Wash. company from someone who had owned it since 1968. Animal rights groups sometimes complain about donkey athletics, but Wick said the rules of the game ensure the animals stay safe and healthy.

"I've been doing it for 30 years and I know I've never had a donkey get hurt, and I've never hurt a donkey in any way," he said.

Wick's 35 donkeys have put on shows from Washington to Utah. He said the donkeys are tamed and trained and perform in 150 to 160 shows per year. While donkeys on a basketball court may sound like a circus sideshow, Wick said the animals are following a natural instinct to be ridden and herded.

"The donkeys aren't particular, they even let Republicans play the games," according to the Donkey Sports, Inc. Web site.

Ungren hopes the donkey basketball game will raise $5,000 for the Central Kitsap Food Bank. The proceeds of ticket sales are about evenly split between the food bank and Donkey Sports.

The game starts at 6 p.m., Feb. 6 at Central Kitsap High School, 3700 Northwest Anderson Hill Road, Silverdale. Tickets cost between $8 and $11.

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