By Kera Wanielista
Skagit Valley Herald (MCT)
ANACORTES — A longstanding Anacortes Eagles No. 249 fundraising tradition has officially been canceled, Anacortes School District Superintendent Mark Wenzel said Thursday.
The event, which sees donkey riders facing off against each other in a basketball game, was scheduled to take place at Anacortes Middle School’s gym on Saturday.
Due to concerns and an uproar of negative feedback, the event, put on by Donkey Sports Inc., was canceled, Wenzel said.
The proposed event drew feedback and criticism at the local, state, national and even international level, Wenzel said. The district had been “inundated” with phone calls and emails, some from as far away as Australia.
“I think, regardless of where folks stand on this issue, the controversy isn’t good for Anacortes,” Wenzel said. “It took our focus away from student learning this week; we were inundated with emails and phone calls. So I think if we can avoid more controversy by not having a protest on the news on Saturday, it’s probably good for the community.”
Mike Gourley, trustee with the Anacortes Eagles No. 249, confirmed the event was canceled.
“And that kind of sucks,” Gourley said. “I used to ride for eight years, and the only people that got hurt was us, not the donkeys.”
He said at least 1,000 tickets had already been sold for the event. Gourley said people who have purchased tickets can attend one of three magic shows the organization will hold at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 25, at the Eagles Lodge.
Gourley said the event was held as a fundraiser for the local food bank.
One of the most vocal organizations against the donkey basketball game came from Pasado’s Safe Haven, an animal shelter in the east Snohomish County city of Sultan. Kim Koon, Pasado’s director of investigation, said the group had proposed an alternate fundraising solution to Wenzel and the school district before the announcement of the event’s cancellation.
Koon said Pasado’s offered that, if the district canceled the event, Pasado’s and its supporters would come en masse to support the district and help raise funds for the food bank in other ways.
“We would bring all of our support monetarily, donation-wise, and just people’s attention to the cause at hand,” Koon said. “Which is supposedly the food bank. So we said, ‘Why don’t we use all of this support and donations to support the food bank?’ ”
Koon said she had no doubt that Pasado’s supporters would be able to raise as much if not more money than the event usually brings in.
“The donkeys would be happy, the superintendent would be happy and I think the Eagles would be happy,” Koon said.
Wenzel said the district neither endorsed nor opposed the event. It was merely renting out its facilities to a community organization. He said the facility is rented out on an hourly basis and that the funds are pretty minimal.
“Our message all along has been this has been a rental from the school district. We were not sponsoring this event,” Wenzel said. “As a school district, we believe that our facilities are community facilities.”
Koon said Pasado’s was happy with the event’s cancellation, and they do intend to show support for the organizations involved.
“Pasado’s is still grateful and is still going to execute our supporters to promote and support the food bank,” Koon said. “We will still be bringing support to the food bank this Saturday.”