Basketball Ground broken on new basketball court in honor of Neumuller
Joe Neumuller spent many hours on the basketball courts across Danbury, fueled by the passion of playing competitive sports for his entire life.
His influence will be present the next time a pickup game starts at St. Gregory’s Elementary School, this time on a new facility. Thanks to a loyal friend and support from family and friends, Neumuller’s legacy will have a new twist.
Ground was broken early Saturday morning for a new hoops court at St. Gregory’s Elementary; the effort will be named in the honor of Neumuller, who passed away in a car accident in February 2016 at age 26.
Longtime friend Emmanuel Omokaro was driving down the road last October when an idea popped into his head.
“We were saying that right now there’s not a good court for basketball outdoors in Danbury that people can use,” Omokaro said. “A lot of people go to Brookfield or Bethel, and the one at the PAL center is kind of beat up.”
Settling on the location was even more serendipitous. Joe’s dad was passing St. Gregory’s — the family lives less than a mile away on High Rise Road — and saw a rainbow appear over the horizon. Once Omokaro heard that, the location was set proverbial ball was rolling.
Omokaro set up a GoFundMe page that quickly raised the required $4,500 to cover basic costs, but much more was required. Joe’s uncle Anthony Russo reached into his network of local businesses — including Burns Construction and Asphalt Repair Solutions, both with ties to the Hatters family — chipped in with materials by the truckload to get the project underway.
“It’s overwhelming, the support,” said Joe’s mom Terry. “From the community and the amount of generosity and love from people. It restores your faith in mankind; your biggest fear is the person that you’ve lost is going to be forgotten; this way he will never be forgotten.”
An outdoor playground permit was also secured.
“When everyone found out what this was about they jumped on it,” Russo said. “Sherwin Williams donated paint; everyone has come out of the woodwork and it’s pretty amazing to see.”
The court will take about 24-36 hours of labor to complete, enough time for returning students at St. Gregory’s to break ground in their own way. The court will be open to the public when school isn’t in session, something that will be a boost to the town.
“I give Russo all the credit,” Omokaro said. “He was why this was put together so fast; we would still probably be raising money if it wasn’t for him. And in-season; they have a short span of the year to raise all the money they live on as contractors, to take time out of their busy schedule shows what kind of people they are.”
Neumuller was a three-sport standout prior to graduating from Danbury High in 2007. The football, basketball and track athlete had a larger than life personality, one that was evident at an early age.
“Running wasn’t his primary sport but he definitely stood out as a high-quality person, a great teammate hard work and always reliable,” said track coach Rob Murray.
The combination of solving a long-standing issue and keeping Neumuller’s long-lasting love for the game was the ultimate win-win for everyone involved.
“Most people get a bench or a plaque,” said sister Jaclyn, “Joe always went big and he’s getting a basketball court.”