A Night for Ayanna: Tragedy & tribute

June 14, 2019 11:37 PM

ALBANY - At the Albany Boys & Girls Club Friday night, nobody cared if the ball went in the hoop or not. The final score didn't matter. Turnovers were no big deal. Sometimes, the lessons learned on a basketball court have nothing at all to do with the game.

There was a lot of energy, a lot of effort, and plenty of intensity inside the tiny gym. Emia Willingham, who organized the skills clinic for young girls wouldn't want it any other way.


"My goal is to give them a safe environment to not only show their basketball skills but connect with each other on a personal level," she said.

Willingham, a one time Albany High School basketball standout, and former Siena College player, befriended a young teammate in high school named Ayanna Hunter. Both young women were coached by Decky Lawson.

"We're going to make sure of Ayanna's legacy, and make sure everyone knows that she was one of the greatest point guards in Section Two history," Lawson said.

On Memorial Day, 21-year old Ayanna Hunter was gunned down, murdered while attending a holiday picnic in Niskayuna.

"It hurt a lot of people and obviously it shows right now," Dawson says.

"Ayanna was a little sister to me as well so we did have a bond and I was able to be there for her and I want the other girls that are coming up to do the same as well," Willingham stated.

That was the impetus for her to organize the combined basketball clinic and teammate reunion, to remind young people about the perils of gun violence, but also to make sure they realize if something happens to one member of the sneaker sisterhood, it happens to all of them.

"I'm here in honor of Ayonna," said Ivy Owens, a junior at Niskayuna High School, "I love her. She was one of my mentors. I watched her play all the time. (I patterned) my game around her. I'm here for her."

"Knowing that she had so much love for the sport and knowing that I'm still able to play, I'm glad that I can continue on and live out her legacy," said Leah Gonzalez, a junior at Albany High School.

It is a legacy that includes lessons in basketball and beyond.

"We want them to know there's more to life than just sadness, there's more to life than just death" said Wanda Willingham, an Albany County legislator, and grandmother of Emia, "There's a future and they can have a future.

Emia says she intends to make the clinic an annual event. She also hopes to establish a memorial scholarship in Ayanna's name.

Meanwhile, Ayanna Hunter's murder remains unsolved.


Dan Levy

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