Ex-rodeo clown puts food on the table with donkey ball

Published 10:05 am Monday, January 26, 2015

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For Thurston Hamrick, hosting donkey basketball games started as a way to make ends meet while working the rodeo circuit decades ago.
Now, he enjoys the game as a way to provide family entertainment and help nonprofit agencies raise money with donkey ball fundraisers, like the game hosted Friday night for the Abortion Alternatives and Women’s Center and TLC Community Center.
Hamrick, the owner of Professional Animal Frolics in Boiling Springs, N.C., started hosting donkey ball games around 30 years ago.
“I was working the rodeos, the bulls, the bucking horses and as a clown,” Hamrick said. “I could live for about 10 months out of the year, but I wasn’t making any money in the winter.”
Hamrick then turned to hosting donkey ball games to make up the difference during the off-season. The known history of donkey ball has a similar beginning.
“I don’t know exactly where the donkey ball games started, but during the Depression, people would use donkey ball games as a way to live,” he said.
Now that Hamrick is out of the rodeo circuit, he continues hosting donkey ball games and other events as a way to stay in show business. He, along with his 10-donkey and one-llama crew, travel to different communities setting up donkey ball events.
“I like show business,” Hamrick said. “I clowned in the rodeos forever. I like putting on shows and donkey ball games are something I can do myself.”
To successfully host a donkey ball event, Hamrick says a person needs an understanding of donkeys. He said it was important to have different types of donkeys to match up with the different types of players.
“There are donkeys that don’t buck, ones that buck a little and ones that buck a lot,” he said. “You have to match up the type of donkey to the type of rider that will be on them. You have to have something for everyone.”
To prepare the donkeys for the game, Hamrick said there is a little training that goes into it, but for the most part the donkeys are self taught. He said when a new donkey is introduced to the group it is led into the playing area in the middle of a group so that it will enter the building. After that it will do what it naturally does.
“All donkeys are different,” he said. “They each have their own personalities, just like people. After a few games, the riders have broke them and they know what to do.”
When the National Anthem plays, that is when the donkeys know it is time to play. At the buzzers for the end of each quarters, that is how the donkeys know when it is time to rest.
At the end of the game, Hamrick said what really matters is that the people in attendance had a good time and enjoyed the show.
“When you have a good show, it makes you feel good,” he said. “The games are funny and they help people raise a little money.”

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