Updated: Jul 8
By Alex Lehmbeck
Isiah Neely is old enough to remember community days in Coraopolis. He recalled attending a basketball tournament in his hometown every summer, with residents of nearby neighborhoods flocking to see the action.
But that tradition stopped when Neely was in middle school.
As years went by, there seemed to be no opportunities for celebration and reunion in Coraopolis.
Now in his 20s and operating his own personal training business, Rise Above Sports Training and Skill Development, Neely yearned for the return of community days where he grew up.
“It seems like in Coraopolis, the only time we come together is for funerals,” he said.
Last year, Neely began considering the possibility of organizing a public event. But those plans came to a halt in March when the coronavirus first appeared in the United States, making the event impossible to plan as the community went into lockdown. But he knew what he wanted to do, and he had a long head start to plan for the 2021 “Summer Jam” being held July 17 and 18 at Memorial Park, 101 First Ave., Coraopolis. Activities begin daily at 10 a.m.
Neely teamed up with another personal trainer in the area, Ty Fisher, the CEO and founder of Fit4Life. Neely met Fisher years ago when the former played football for Cornell High School, and the latter coached the team. The age difference between the two became a strength as a duo, providing two necessary perspectives.
“We’re both from Coraopolis, and we wanted to bring together multiple generations,” Fisher said.
“Me being older, a different generation, and him being younger, we tried to bring everyone together and make it a community event.”
It didn’t take long for them to figure out they wanted to regain the atmosphere of the old community events in the area, but not without making some alterations. For example, the old tradition catered mostly to adults, while Neely and Fisher wanted their event to have plenty of activities for kids and families.
Admission to the event is free. Neely and Fisher used their connections around the area to find experts in an abundance of fields: basketball coaches, athletic trainers, restaurant owners, etc. The occasion will include sports clinics, music, fitness classes, youth activities and a high school basketball tournament.
Those will all come free of charge, while food vendors on site will be the only aspect that costs participants money. In addition to the main event’s festivities, there will be an adult game night afterward at the Keith-Holmes VFW Post 402, with a $10 admission fee.
“Most of it is pretty much the same [as the old events], but we just added our own twist to it and made it promote health and wellness, Neely said. “Back in the day, it was just basketball. Basketball and food vendors. That’s it, they didn’t have the music, DJs, they didn’t have performances, and they didn’t bring in other health and fitness instructors.”
To help promote the event, Fisher and Neely got two significant co-signers to put their names on the poster: Buffalo Bills cornerback Dane Jackson and hip-hop artist Guapo Lennon.
Jackson grew up in Pittsburgh, but moved to Coraopolis in his freshman year of high school, where he met Neely on the football team. He became close friends with Neely early on, and now he’s one of Rise Above’s most notable clientele. He also maintained a connection with Fisher, who coached him at Cornell.
A late addition to the Coraopolis community, Jackson never went to the old community days that ended years ago. But when Neely told him his idea for the Summer Jam, Jackson immediately wanted to participate. Fortunately for him, Buffalo Bills training camp starts on July 27, allowing Jackson to make the trip down for the weekend.
“It’ll mean a lot to me,” Jackson said. “Just me being down there and me being around the kids, it’s gonna be a fun time for me just as much as it is for them.”
Lennon didn’t grow up in Coraopolis, but also feels like part of the community because of his friendship with Neely, whom he called a “genuine friend.” Like Jackson, he jumped at the opportunity to help with his friend’s event. He has a new mixtape releasing prior to the event, and will likely appear on stage to perform a few songs for the crowd.
“If I’m in town, and I’m around, I’m gonna make it to everything [Neely] needs me to come to,” Lennon said.
“He makes it to everything that I invite him to: my shows, studio sessions, parties, whatever it is. So we’re gonna come out there and we’re gonna support him. If it’s an annual thing, we're gonna be there.”
If all goes well, the event will be around for future years. Neely and Fisher hope to see this become an annual tradition, something the community can look forward to every summer. Lennon is excited to see what the event will bring to the community, but especially what it will mean to his friend.
“Not too many communities have that public figure that puts on and gives back to their community,” he said. “Being that he’s doing that, that puts him in a different light in life and in Coraopolis.”