April 4, 2023 at 3:40 p.m.
Melrose FFA defends hoops title against Albany, Holdingford
The Melrose Area High School FFA team successfully defended its donkey basketball title March 25 at Albany Area Public Schools in Albany.
“Our adviser told us when we picked up the traveling trophy, we had better bring it back,” said Austin Reuter, Melrose FFA member and one of the few high school players who scored in the tournament. “So, we did.”
Melrose defeated Rocori FFA 6-4 and Holdingford FFA topped Albany FFA 8-6 in the semifinals. Melrose posted a 6-2 win over Holdingford in the championship game.
“The last time we did this (had a tournament) was 2019, pre-COVID,” said Duane Lichy, Albany FFA adviser. “Melrose won it last.”
Donkey ball is not a normal basketball game between FFA charters. First, donkeys are part of the game. The game is played 4-on-4 (8-on-8 if donkeys are counted). Each player is paired with a donkey.
“Players can get off the donkey to pick up the ball but must have a hold of the reins when they do,” said CJ Cordell, master of ceremonies and donkey trainer. “They must be on the donkey to shoot or pass the ball.”
“This is not a widely known thing for big schools, but smaller schools like to do it,” said Maria Wruck, Holdingford FFA member.
Any visions of quick, galloping fastbreaks were ended almost as soon as the game started. Some players found their donkeys would not move and balancing could be tricky when the donkeys did move.
“It was a little bumpy, then stationary,” said Veronica Maus, Albany FFA member. “They sometimes didn’t move that much. You have to trust your teams and get close to the emcee. The donkeys move then.”
Melrose, behind two baskets by Trevor Thom, took an early 2-0 lead in their game against Rocori. Thom, who also scored in the championship game, found it was not always easy to line up shots.
“They don’t want to keep me on,” he said. “It was a wild ride. I’ve ridden a horse, but not donkeys. With horses, you’re in a saddle.”
Rocori came back to tie the game, but as the clock wound down, Melrose got the ball to Alyssa Scherping, who was alone underneath the basket. Her second attempt dropped through the hoop with about 30 seconds left.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I just made a shot,’” she said. “I just got the ball and shot it up there. You just gotta go for it.”
Melrose then watched Holdingford and Albany battle. That game saw Evan Lichy score twice for Holdingford, with additional baskets from Blaise Hartung and Jenna Pallow. Baskets by Jazmin Pullins, Leczi Fleischhacker and Noah Hartung kept Albany in the game. Evan Lichy’s second goal, with 13 seconds left, decided the outcome.
Unlike some, Evan Lichy, who wrestled for the Huskers, was able to control his donkey or at least get it to move.
“Maybe it comes from working with calves,” he said. “You gotta be tougher than the animal.”
He also had a little more incentive to win than other participants; he was playing against his father’s FFA team.
“A lot of our kids know kids from Albany, so they invited us,” said Taylor Peck, Holdingford FFA adviser. “We don’t have a lot of horse people in our chapter. It’s basically whoever is old enough to compete and signs up.”
The 10 donkeys were provided by Dairyland Donkey Ball of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
“We play 4-on-4 and have two extra,” Cordell said. “They are pretty easy to train, and they make us look good.”
Part of the entertainment came as donkeys quit moving, headed in a different direction or tried bucking the riders off. It was plain to see Cordell, at times, dictated the animal’s actions.
“It’s mainly luck if your donkey wants to move,” Reuter said. “You can’t really do anything with a 1,000-pound animal fighting against you. If it doesn’t want to move, it doesn’t want to move.”
Melrose rallied for the 6-2 win in the championship game, which was only eight minutes long. Bethany Gerads put Holdingford up 2-0, only to see Reuter tie the game. Scherping and Thom followed with scores, sealing the Melrose win.
“They defended the title,” said Pam Pundsack, Melrose team coach. “Ms. Seifert (FFA adviser) told them to bring it back.”
The event was a fundraiser for the Albany FFA alumni. The money raised will help farm families dealing with hardships, current FFA members going to state and national conventions and support local agriculture, according to Duane Lichy.
As people left, they were talking about the game and what they had just seen. They may well have a chance to see it again next year.
“The idea is to rotate from school to school,” Duane Lichy said. “It would be nice if Melrose could host it next year since they have the trophy.”