Barnyard basketball

"Eldon Baker (right, on knees) helps his teammate secure the ball from Eagles team member Doyle Marks during the first half of Donkey Basketball.Matt Johnson / staff photosOn a recent Saturday, the barnyard met the school yard. Had it been a fairy tale, it would have been the story of how Larry Bird met Eeyore. Strangely enough, donkey basketball was as real as could be Saturday afternoon. Eight grown men riding atop highly-trained court donkeys gave new and slower meaning to the fast break and the run-and-gun as they played the strangest sport this side of polo.For the fourth year in a row, teams from Fire Protection District 3 and the South Whidbey Eagles Club faced off in the South Whidbey High School gymnasium in a game of donkey basketball as a benefit for local charities and the Eagles Club. In front of a crowd of more than 100 people, the firefighters won the contest by a razor-thin 20-18 margin for their third win in four years.What was most amazing about the game is the fact that anyone scored at all. Having had no practice beforehand, the donkey riders mounted their steeds just before tipoff and figured out how to steer the animals while concentrating on their one-handed shooting. The donkeys, which play donkey basketball year round through Bellingham's Eagle Productions, seemed to have their own idea of how the game should go. Shod with plastic hoof covers to spare the gymnasium's wood floor, the donkeys circled counter-clockwise around the court, pausing under each team's basket to allow a shot with each pass.Both teams relied on brother acts to do much of the scoring. The Eagles' team fielded Doyle, Douglas and David Marks, who managed to score a good share of their team's field goals, even though they struggled to stay atop their donkeys. For FD3, the Fabulous Baker Boys, Eldon and Reuben, teamed to give their squad the edge in the lane and under the basket.The players had to stay in contact with their donkeys at all times. When the ball rolled out of bounds, players from both teams dismounted, grabbed their donkeys' leads, and pulled the reluctant animals behind them as they plodded slowly toward the ball.In the end, shooting skill proved to be more important than riding skill. The FD3 crew edged the Eagles 10-8 in the first half, then matched them 10-10 in the second for the two-point win.The game's organizer, Eagles Club president Dale Marks, said the annual rivalry between his club and the firefighters is close and comfortable. It's not exactly the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals, but it draws a good crowd.It's the one group we can concentrate with, he said.The game raised a total of $4,000. About half goes to the Eagles Club for its operating expenses, while the rest goes to charity. On game day, Marks gave a check for $600 to the Good Cheer Food Bank.Marks said the two teams will play again next year. "

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