TOLONO — The gym in Philo where the Unity boys’ fifth- and sixth-grade boys’ basketball team normally plays wasn’t quite big enough for the community to show its support for the family of Daniel Ennis, who died Monday.
So on Thursday, they moved their game to Unity High School’s gym. And instead of the typical maroon, both Unity and St. Joseph-Ogden wore green, the 11-year-old’s favorite color, for warmups and asked the community to do the same.
“We’re just trying to give back to them a little bit and show that this community cares about them,” sixth-grade coach Joe O’Neill said. “Myself and one of the other coaches, Jason Henry, we have boys on the teams that we coach, and they were both hit pretty hard being close to Daniel.
“We just felt like it was something where we had a game coming up, and it was a good opportunity to do it.”
In his own way, O’Neill knows what the Ennis family is going through.
In 2006, he lost a son, and through the heartbreak, he saw how the Unity community could rally around a hurting family.
“This is a fantastic community,” he said. “I went through a similar situation where I lost a son, so I just want to give back to families who have to go through something like this because it’s a small group of people and not everybody understands what they’re going through.
“I know this time is hard, and we want to show them that we love them.”
The team raffled off donated Illinois-Northwestern football tickets and put out collection buckets seeking donations for the Daniel Ennis Memorial Fund. By night’s end, they had raised $4,000.
Thursday’s show of support was a success, but O’Neill wanted to make sure that that support didn’t end when the community members clad in green filed out of the gym.
“He was just a great kid from all aspects, from what I’ve heard from the players that we coach,” O’Neill said. “They’re going through something that very few have to go through, and just to know that people are there for them. ... We’ve seen in our situation that the people who love you the most will continue to check on you even when months go past.
“It’s fresh now, so everybody wants to help now, but it’s a lifetime change that they’ll be going through. We’re just hoping that the community will continue to remember Daniel and support his parents,” he said, adding they wanted to “show the Ennis family that this community is there for them in this really difficult, difficult situation and time in their life.”