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‘He’s an extraordinary young man’ 1/7/22

‘He’s an extraordinary young man’

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 


Brandy Langley found herself in full "mom-mode" last week at Sheridan’s Yellowjackets Arena. 


Her oldest child, Hunter McAlister, was being tended to following a hard collision in a tightly contested basketball game.


McAlister was injured while trying to score during Alma’s game with the Yellowjackets. At first, Langley wasn’t too concerned.


Then there was blood. And, to a certain degree, a little bit of chaos, too. 


“I didn’t know what had happened at first,” she said. “I saw the coach (Alma coach Dominic Lincoln) jumping up and down and then blood running down Hunter’s head. My first thought was to go to the concession stand to get napkins because I didn’t want him to get blood on his jersey because then they (officials) wouldn’t let him back in the game.”


Fifteen minutes later, as the Airedales were trying to stay afloat with their best player unable to play, Langley is blindly traversing Hwy. 35 — the proverbial road less traveled covered by pine trees and, at 9:30 p.m., darkness — while rushing to Benton Hospital, where Hunter would receive four staples in his head. 


Such is the life of Brandy and Hunter. 


“I’m driving from Sheridan to Benton not really sure where I’m going,” Langley said. “It seemed like it took 30 minutes to get there. I had Madison (Mooney) and (McKenzie) Martin, and they’re watching the game on the live stream and giving me updates. We’re screaming and yelling for the Airedales.”


Back in 2003, when the former Brandy Ray gave birth to the curly-haired, blue-eyed Hunter, she was just trying to survive. 


“I had Hunter my senior year and needed to finish two classes to graduate,” Langley said. “It wasn’t easy; obviously, I thought I was madly in love with his dad.”


Brandy married Jason McAlister when Hunter was three months old. A month later, she graduated from Van Buren High School.


She lived in a duplex and, in addition to finishing high school, juggled two part-time jobs at the Carpenter Shop (daycare) and Price Chopper department store.


“My mom and I have always been close — that’s my hero,” Mcalister said. “She had me super young, so growing up it was always just me and my mom. We’re really close; she is a big supporter.”


Hunter, Line One 


Lincoln had yet to shake hands with Sheridan coaches and players following the Airedales’ victory when the tall kid in the No. 12 jersey began texting his coach in jubilation. 


“Right after that game, we haven’t even shaken hands yet when my phone began blowing up and he was wanting to celebrate with the team,” Lincoln said. “He’s in the hospital; he’s still locked in, and he’s there for the guys. 


“I’m so glad I get a chance to coach him — he’s an extraordinary young man.”


A night after leaving the game to get staples in his head, Hunter was not only back in the starting lineup, he was back on the floor making a difference. 


In Alma’s 41-36 loss to Jacksonville, he and his longtime pal, Logan Taylor, combined for 23 points and 17 rebounds. McAlister had 10 points and 10 boards during the loss, for which he later tried to blame himself.


Despite another gritty effort, the Airedales found themselves down with 2:36 left to play. McAlister stepped to the line and missed two foul shots.


Twenty minutes later, a teary-eyed McAlister stood before his teammates.


“He made a decision to be with our team full-time this summer,” Lincoln said. “It really helped our team to go in the right direction. He came in, grabbed the reins, and he was our leader.” 




McAlister, mom Brandy, and stepdad Nathan Langley moved to Alma prior to the start of Hunter’s fourth-grade year. Back then, he was already a little gangly-looking on the baseball diamond, much less the basketball court.


Soon after, he forged a friendship with Taylor.


"The first time I met LT was in little league,” Mcalister said. “I remember we were like, 'Don't let him shoot' — and it's still that way today. I came to Alma my fourth-grade year, so I played from the fourth all the way up. I've known them (teammates) for a long time; they're all a bunch of great guys."


McAlister and Taylor never played on the same little league teams. They were on opposite seventh-grade basketball teams, too.


That winter, with more than 55 kids signed up for basketball, McAlister played for coach Luke Folkerts.


"It's really weird. I can remember my first game as a seventh-grader with coach Folkerts," McAlister said. "I remember coach (Eddie) Corder and my sophomore year with coach (Stan) Flenor.


“It seems like I just played basketball a few minutes ago."


Battle tested


With 14 conference games starring them in the face, it’s now or never. The tall kid with curly hair hopes to one day coach and teach history. 


"Coach Lincoln's really big on communication; he wants to make sure everybody is involved,” McAlister said. “Coach Lincoln makes sure everyone is working together and there’s no iso (one-on-one). We have to work together.”


At 6-foot-7, Hunter McAlister isn’t always the biggest player on the floor, though he’s easily the tallest player in Lincoln’s program. McAlister’s size usually draws two defenders, which amps up the pressure.


With the exception of the 6-4 Taylor, Alma’s lineup often includes three players — Demetrio Cerda, Daniel Howard, and Stewart George — all under six feet tall.


Six-foot-two sophomore Jackson Daily has been a reliable backup for Mcalister. 


“It’s not like you have a ton of subs coming in and out, but Daily does a good job coming in when I need a breather,” McAlister said. “(But) it’s tough because you know going into the game you’ve got to be the big guy in the middle.” 


The Airedales won seven games in former coach Stan Flenor’s final season. They had a chance to win several more. 


The Airedales have had opportunities to win more games this season, too. 


"Last year we lost so many close games," McAlister said. "Coming into this year, with the same group of guys, it's been difficult. We're trying to learn to finish games.”


Just hoops 


Late last summer, McAlister made the difficult decision to quit football to concentrate solely on basketball. He’s hopeful of playing at the next level. 


"It was a hard line," he said. "I thought about it for a while. I was really thinking about college (basketball). It was a hard choice, but I think it's paying off."


McAlister leads the Airedales with 11.7 points per game. He’s also pulling down 7.6 rebounds per game.


His off-the-court numbers aren’t bad, either. McAlister is a straight-A student. He’s never been in trouble.


As it turned out, McAlister wasn’t the first person in Brandy’s family to have a fine basketball career. Langley’s cousin, Whitney Ray, was a star player for the Airedales in the late 1990s.


“He is a good kid; I wanted him to have a good life growing up,” his mom said. “When he turned 17, that really hit me hard. I do look back and know that I’m very blessed. He has a good head on his shoulder.”


 “He has high character and a great work ethic,” Lincoln said. “We’re so fortunate to have him on our team.”