Author Topic: Hoop-shooting rats score points with museum crowd  (Read 1949 times)

Offline Dearpie

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Hoop-shooting rats score points with museum crowd
« on: March 03, 2005, 09:49:23 PM »
Hoop-shooting rats score points with museum crowd


Four-legged hoopsters with long tails delight fans at this weekend's Surf 'n' Turf celebration at the Science Museum of Virginia.

Hoop-shooting rats score points with museum crowd
By COLLETTE CAPRARA
Date published: 3/3/2005
For THE FREE LANCE-STAR

With single-minded concentration, the player's eyes are trained on the hoop. With a triumphant swoosh, the ball clears the hoop--followed by the player.

This fantastic move, the "body dunk," is a specialty of the team now featured at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond. Never witnessed in the NBA, the move is a signature mark of the RBA--Rat Basketball Association.

That's right, the museum's current stars of the court are rambunctious rodents, trained for months by gallery educator Leeanna Pletcher.

Rat basketball, now a permanent museum exhibit, will be part of this weekend's Surf 'n' Turf Days activities.

Events include the opportunity to touch a live horseshoe crab and nurse shark, meet other marine creatures, snuggle a soft rabbit, cheer on Smithfield the Painting Pig, learn how a beekeeper collects honey, and, of course, take in some rat basketball.

All the four-legged sports stars are female, and fans can identify each by its unique color.

Staley, the newest player, is grayish blue. Mrs. Frisbee is a Rex rat with white, frizzy hair and a champagne-colored "hood." Swoopes has a white body and brown hood. Teasley is brown.

According to Pletcher, the idea for the game is based on the research of psychologist B.F. Skinner, the father of operant conditioning.

Skinner's theory was that teaching was possible by linking behavior to consequences. For the museum rats, this means grabbing a small wiffle ball, dunking it through the hoop, and receiving a treat.

"Rats are natural jumpers so they can jump quite high," Pletcher said. "The game can get very competitive, since there is food involved!"

Teasley, for example, has become such a deft defensive player, she steals the ball from the other rats.

The gallery where the rat-players perform seats 20, but as many as 75 people have watched a game, with an audience overflow pressed against the windows.

Fans cheer on their favorite players as trainers narrate the court action. Trainers also use the basketball demonstrations as opportunities to teach such concepts as learning theory and genetics.

"Many people come in with a great fear of rats, so we dispel the myths," Pletcher said. "After the show, I hold a rat so that people can pet it if they want to, and overcome their fears."

Museum staff members also talk about the rat's place in the food chain, its behavior and how it can inherit so many different colors and traits.

The concept of rat basketball was initiated at the Center for Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio, and traveled to Richmond via an institution in North Carolina.

"At first, I was very surprised that this activity existed," Pletcher said. "When I was asked to do it, I said, 'What?!' and laughed. But as I have trained the rats and gotten to know them throughout the year, it's been a lot of fun."

Surf 'n' Turf Days is "a merging of the museum's traditional Bay Days and Agriculture Days," said museum public affairs director Nancy Tait.

Touch-tanks filled with aquatic specimens and the bunnies of the Richmond Rabbit Breeders promise to be part of the fun, along with Smithfield the pig, who selects brushes from various paint buckets to create his artistic designs on canvas.

Surf 'n' Turf entertainment also will include sea chanteys performed by Bob Zentz and a demonstration by Willy Wilmoth, who will sculpt a wild creature while sharing information about nature and the environment.

Young visitors will also have an opportunity to create make-and-take crafts, including a surf 'n' turf illusion and a "garden glove" filled with soil and seeds.

Collette Caprara is a freelance writer who lives with her family in Spotsylvania.

Date published: 3/3/2005

Offline Elaken

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Re: Hoop-shooting rats score points with museum crowd
« Reply #1 on: March 03, 2005, 10:15:09 PM »
Yay!!  How fun!
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Offline JanetC

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Re:
« Reply #2 on: March 04, 2005, 06:38:25 AM »
Hurray for rat basketball! It was originated in Columbus, Ohio, where I now live. The COSI (science center) is open 5 days per week and the rats play every day. I'm hoping it's on a must-do list for Paul and Aileen when they visit from Scotland in mid-April. If so, I'll be tagging along! Can't wait!

Offline scout

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« Reply #3 on: March 04, 2005, 08:17:54 AM »
video? where's the post play analysis with video?

Really, this is so cool! I wish there had at least been a picture so we could see how they play.
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Offline rampantrats

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Re: Hoop-shooting rats score points with museum crowd
« Reply #4 on: March 04, 2005, 08:43:50 AM »
How cool is that??

I can almost see it. Yay for more rattie PR..

Gosh I bet they have lots fun playing
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Offline Ratty Corner

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Re: Hoop-shooting rats score points with museum crowd
« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2005, 09:09:54 AM »
Reminded me about a different site
http://www.discoveryplace.org/video/09_hi.htm

Offline knuckles

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Re: Hoop-shooting rats score points with museum crowd
« Reply #6 on: March 04, 2005, 09:25:45 AM »
they had rats playing basketball on Pet Star once.  It was so cute.  of course the judges were jerks and didn't realize how much training was involved and didn't rate them very high

Offline Vandy_Rat

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Re: Hoop-shooting rats score points with museum crowd
« Reply #7 on: March 04, 2005, 06:09:14 PM »
Ahh yes!  Rat basketball!  In high school I was a trained volunteer at COSI Toledo (a branch-off of Janet's COSI Columbus, which I have also visited), and though I did not work in the area of the museum where they ran that show, I did get to go "behind the scenes" on several occations.

Though I haven't been back for several years, I do remember all of the records that they kept on the rats' progress and the many hours that staff and volunteers spent training them.  It's such a fun thing to watch, and the rats certainly don't mind getting awards (small pellets of the stuff inside malted milk balls) for scoring!  It was great fun at COSI Toledo because they used to chose kids to help give the rats their rewards after each basket....great rattie PR!  I don't know if the museum still does it, but I certainly hope so!

Offline Piper

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« Reply #8 on: March 04, 2005, 06:20:30 PM »
they had rats playing basketball on Pet Star once.  It was so cute.  of course the judges were jerks and didn't realize how much training was involved and didn't rate them very high

I've noticed that the Pet Star judges have no idea what takes a lot of training and what is actually an impressive trick.
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Offline Rosies_Mom

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« Reply #9 on: March 04, 2005, 06:57:13 PM »
Nurse Roxie with her Nurse Bonnet.

Offline Meeshski

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Re: Hoop-shooting rats score points with museum crowd
« Reply #10 on: March 04, 2005, 07:48:56 PM »
no-- stop-- this is too funny!!

Swoopes, I loved that.
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