Animal-rights activists who braved Wednesday night's thunderstorm toprotest a donkey basketball game at Centennial High School are "making a big hullabaloo over nothing," said a businessman who supplied the animals.
But to the 25 student demonstrators and the few adults with them, donkey basketball is a cruel exploitation in which the animals may be kicked by players, pulled down or hit by balls.
"It's inhumane to put animals in a room with 800 screaming teen-agers," said Centennial freshman Kendra Peacock.
David Shaw, one ofeight partners in Shaw Brothers Donkey Ball Troupe of Sayre, Pa., which supplied the animals, said his donkeys are well-fed, watered and given regular veterinary care.
"They're making a big issue over 10animals when if they looked around they'd probably find a couple hundred thousand of animals that are mistreated," Shaw said. "I just think they're making a big hullabaloo over nothing."
Student animal-rights advocates appear to be making an impact on donkey basketball atthe three Howard County high schools where games have been played this school year.
Centennial principal Sylvia S. Pattillo declined to cancel last week's game after meeting with student activists, but promised that they will be allowed to present their views to school groups planning such future events.
At Howard High, Eugene L. Streagle Jr. said the March 12 fund-raiser, sponsored by the junior class, will be the last during his tenure as principal.
He met with four student animal-rights advocates two weeks before the game, "and I thought their comments were well-researched. They had done their homework."
He did not cancel the game because the class had paid a non-refundable $800 fee to Shaw Brothers. However, he said, "Out of respectfor them (the animal-rights activists), I didn't go to the event. I told them I wouldn't."
The class barely broke even on the game, hesaid.
Glenelg High School's junior class made a profit and attracted no protests on the donkey basketball game it sponsored in November, assistant principal Mimi Hopkins said.
"As far as it being cruel to animals, I don't see how, because the animals rule the floor," Hopkins said. "I didn't see any cruelty whatsoever and I'm an animal advocate."
Mary Chedester, a Centennial senior who organized the student protest, said students interested in animal rights did not protest last year's game because they were under the impression that donkey basketball would not be repeated at the school this year.
"Absolutely not. No group approached me last year," said Wren Cronan, faculty adviser to the student leadership class that sponsored the game.
Attendance at last week's game, about 250, was less than one-thirdof the 800 patrons who attended a donkey basketball game at the school in March 1990. The leadership class "may be like $20 ahead" when profits are tallied, the adviser said.
Cronan said she thinks the protest affected attendance, but scheduling donkey basketball during spring sports season and at a time when students are saving money for class rings and proms probably also reduced profits.
The class planned to split profits between a donation to charity and a class trip or seed money for future fund-raisers, said senior Drew Herman, a class spokesman. Leadership classes are for students in student government.
Herman saw no objection to donkey basketball. "This is a sport, just like polo or horseback riding. I don't feel it demeans the donkeys in any way," he said.
Kim Berley, a freshman who joined the picket line outside the school building, felt otherwise. "I don't eat meat, I don't wear leather. So why should I permit cruelty to animals?" she said.
Rebecca Gagnon, a 1984 Centennial graduate who is nowan assistant in the education department of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in Rockville, said PETA has been working for about two years to stop donkey basketball games.
The advocacy organization maintains that inexperienced riders often punch, kick, push or pull the animals, that the donkeys spend much of their lives being shipped in cramped trailers, and that food and water are withheld to prevent the animals from urinating or defecating in gyms.
Shaw said riders "are instructed not to in any way mistreat the animals. But everyone doesn't always follow the rules." If the referee sees any abuse, the referee will stop it, he said.