Jason Alexander is what ‘Butte tough’ is all about

Jason Alexander is what ‘Butte tough’ is all about

One day while walking the hallways at Butte High School, I came across a fellow student in a wheel chair. I knew his name, but I had never talked to him before.

He was waiting for the elevator, and I was heading to the stairs.

“Hi,” I said, addressing the boy by his name as he looked up at me. “How are you doing?”

His response will live with me forever.

“How do you think I’m doing?” he snapped back. “I’m in a (explicative deleted) wheelchair.”

This boy’s anger seemed to be an everyday sort of thing. I knew other students who had similar encounters with him.

In the 25 years since that day, I have always felt for that boy. I can only image how difficult life must be for him, and I do not blame him one bit for being mad at the world. I sure would be.

As it is, I am quite often mad at the world, even when I really have no reason to be. I get to take for granted the little things that are huge obstacles for anybody confined to a chair.

Every time I see Jason Alexander, I have the exact opposite of that encounter in the Butte High hallway. Jason always looks up for his chair with a smile and a laugh.

Really, if there is anybody who should be mad at this world, it is Jason. He was born with spina bifida, a congenital disorder that has kept him in his wheelchair his entire life.

I have known Jason, who is now in his late 30s, since he was a little kid, and I have literally never seen him when he wasn’t in a good mood. He is always smiling and laughing like he is the luckiest guy in the world.

Even if you are in a bad mood, it is impossible to see Jason and not feel better about life.

“Seeing his attitude every day has made me a better person, I know that,” Jason’s younger brother Chris told me when I wrote about the brothers in 2012. “He’s always upbeat.”

Jason’s smile and laugh really are that infectious. Seeing them might be the best thing about going to a Butte High sporting event.

Jason is at almost all of them, too. He volunteers in so many ways, whether it is running the scoreboard, doing the book, keeping stats, holding a flag or stopwatch at a track meet or doing the public-address announcing.

He does whatever is needed for the Bulldogs. He does what he can to make sure the games can go on for the athletes who will never understand what Jason is missing.

“He is a guy who would give anything to be able to one time step on the court/field to compete at any sport,” said Butte High activities director Chuck Merrifield, who certainly understands the value of Jason’s volunteer work more than anyone else. “Too many kids take it for granted that they can play, and Jason would give anything to be able to step on the court for one time.”

Yes, Jason loves sports. Instead of getting down because he cannot play, Jason watches them all, whether it is live or on television.

He also gets involved in the sports in any way he can, even if that means washing the uniforms. He did that when was the student manager for pretty much every sport when he attended Montana Western.

His college days were spent going from practice to practice, working overtime to make sure the needs of the players and coaches were met. And they always were.

Jason also never missed a game that involved his brother, Chris, who had a solid football career for Butte High and then Western.

“He went to every game,” Chris said. “My senior year he went to every game, even the road games.”

When Chris played golf as a kid, Jason was there watching. He watched him wrestle. He watched him play basketball. He supported his brother no matter what he did.

If he was jealous — and nobody would have blamed him if he was — it never showed. He just supported and observed. And he paid attention.

Jason knows the games well, and they are important to him in the moment and in historical context.

That is why when it came time to pick a few new members for the Butte Sports Hall of Fame selection committee, Jason was the first person I asked. He accepted, calling it an honor.

That honor is double the other way around. Having a strong, independent, open-minded person like Jason will make a great organization even better.

Jason’s father, Bill, always pushed Jason to be that independent person. He said he wouldn’t always be there to help his son. He was right.

When Jason was 25, Bill died unexpectedly at the age of 49. Jason has lived pretty much on his own since. Rarely, if ever, does he ask for help. Jason does it himself.

He drives, even though just getting into his truck is a major job. He pulls himself into the seat and then slowly operates a crane that pulls his wheelchair into the back.

Getting out is an equally difficult task.

Jason cannot scrape the windows or sweep the snow off his truck, which can be a problem when living in Montana. When it is snowing after a basketball game, he will have to sit in the truck until it is warm enough for his heater to clear off the windows.

He could ask for help from the people walking by, but he never does.

When people talk about the tough guys in town, they usually talk about people who have won fights. They should be talking about Jason. He truly epitomizes what it really means to be “Butte tough.” Or just tough in general.

That toughness was on display last week at an intensive care unit in Billings. Jason was there about a week, unconscious after a vicious infection took over his stomach.

He had several surgeries, and may need more.

Jason managed to give a thumbs up when told that the Bobcats took the lead over the Grizzlies on Saturday. It wasn’t until the following Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — that he woke up and asked, “What in the hell happened?”

When the family sent out pictures on Facebook with updates on the good news, Jason was, of course, smiling.

“He is one hell of a man,” Merrifield said. “There are not a lot of people that are that special of a person. He is almost one of a kind.”

Jason faces a long road back, but long roads are all he has ever known. He will probably be in Billings for a while before he is able to come home.

So, when the Bulldogs open the season next week, there will be a huge void at the scorer’s table. The good news is we know he is coming back as soon as he can.

And the next time we see Jason, you better believe he will be smiling and laughing.

— Bill Foley writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Check out his NFL picks on Thursdays. 1 comment

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1 Comment

  • Charles Bugni
    November 27, 2018, 1:52 pm

    Great article.


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