30th Anniversary of Rat Basketball

Photo of Rat Basketball at COSI.

This year marks COSI’s 50th anniversary of creating a space that nourishes innovation and inspiration for every generation. It is a great accomplishment and one worthy of a grand celebration. However, COSI is not only celebrating 50 years of being awesome; it is also the 30th anniversary of rat basketball!

Rat basketball is considered to be a “COSI classic”. This means that when people think of COSI, they think of rat basketball. It is a long standing tradition, and rightfully so. But how did all of this rat basketball playing begin?

WAY back in 1984, the education team from COSI happened to be watching a television show called “That’s Incredible”. Gracing the television screen was a young girl, who had trained rats to play basketball for a school project with the assistance of her science-minded father. COSI was developing travelling exhibits at the time, and the team decided that rats playing basketball would be a great addition to their sports psychology exhibit! Little did they know how successful the idea would become!

The girl and her father were asked to come in and teach COSI’s education team the art of rat basketball. The maiden and final games played while travelling where refereed by Leonard Sparks, who is a COSI legend at this point. During the rat basketball games, a tribute was given to the great minds that created the idea through a video of the girl training the rats being played on a large screen behind the court. The idea was a huge success. Museums around the country, and eventually world, contacted COSI to learn the skillful art of teaching rats to play basketball.


One of those museums was Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC. In preparation for hosting the 1994 NCAA Final Four Basketball Tournament, Discovery Place contacted COSI to see if they could bring in a basketball show of their own. As the deadline closed in, only one of their rats was performing consistently. At the last minute, COSI brought in one of their own trained rats to fill in. COSI’s rat was an adult, and much larger than the baby rat. The larger rat was very motivated, and was strong enough to have total possession control throughout the game. The younger rat was undeterred by the more seasoned rat’s strength and held onto the rat basketball at all costs, even though that meant going wherever the ball happened to be.

The early rats could be trained in 6 months, but the great mind of our own Craig Kelley was tasked with trying to cut the training time down. Taking his work home with him, literally, he standardized the training process and introduced the importance of keeping detailed records. By following these new protocols, Craig was able to train a pair of rats in 2 ½ weeks with a single trainer! This allowed our rats to get in front of the public sooner so that they could teach the valuable lesson of operant conditioning.

The rest is, as they say, history. The rats still play, and audiences continue to be amazed. If you have never had the opportunity to see the rats play basketball, and are scratching your head wondering how in the world rats are able to accomplish such a feat, make your way to one of the multiple daily shows.

Come and experience one of COSI’s Classics.

The following link shows our rats playing basketball:

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About the Author

Laurie Miller

Laurie Miller

Laurie Miller joined the COSI team in December of 2013 as the Manager of Living Collections. She enjoys anything to do with nature, kayaking, painting, and making natural cleaning and beauty products. She also fosters children with her husband and volunteers at Three Creeks Metro Park.

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