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Major McNeil and Chris Hicks met in a Withrow High School hall this past Friday night carrying smiles as wide as the school’s football field.

Handshakes and hugs soon followed. Stories were swapped and the emotion was palpable.

Friday night was the first time that McNeil, a former teacher and administrator, and Hicks, a former football standout, had connected in person since 1965 when Hicks was in the sixth grade.

“He means the world to me,” Hicks said.

Hicks, a former offensive and defensive tackle, were one of four individuals inducted into the Withrow Athletic Hall of Fame last weekend.

“This type of honor I couldn’t have imagined years ago when I was playing here,” said Hicks, a 1972 Withrow graduate. “But this set the foundation and the building blocks for me to move on not only in athletics but also through college and stepping stones to a successful career. And I’m proud of that, and I’ve been blessed.”

McNeil, a former Cincinnati Public Schools assistant superintendent who served as Withrow’s principal from 1979-85, was among Hicks’ supporters at the pre-induction ceremony.

McNeil’s initial connection to Hicks occurred at the start of his education career — as a Madisonville Elementary School physical education teacher in 1965. That’s when McNeil inspired Hicks, then a sixth-grader, to play sports.

“Chris was always a hard worker in class,” McNeil said. “He had a lot of natural interest but like a lot of sixth graders (was) kind of awkward at the time. Tremendous potential and quite frankly, he paid a lot of attention to instruction, and that kind of drew me to him because I wanted to be a good instructor.”

McNeil convinced Hicks to participate in volleyball and kickball, along with some gymnastics and climbing drills. Even though Hicks didn’t know much about football at the time, he listened.

McNeil later urged Hicks to try out for guard or tackle on the football team when he reached seventh grade at Lyons Junior High School.

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