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GabeMcNealwebThe Point
Winter 2016

School of Communication senior and former men's basketball player Gabe McNeal knows the value of an education. He also knows what basketball has given him in his life.

Now he's using what he learned playing basketball at Point Park, and his upbringing in a household where reading was encouraged, to pass the message on to kids.

McNeal, who starred at Point Park with over 1,000 career points, finished up his men's basketball career after the 2013-14 season. Since then, he has blended education and basketball into his non-profit work.

Improving literacy

McNeal, from Richmond, Va., is the president and founder of the Go Pro in the Game of Life Foundation. It is dedicated to improving literacy rates in low-income communities, and it has developed several programs designed to motivate and encourage at-risk minorities to read. It also incorporates a basketball aspect given his sports background.

"We understand that reading is the foundation to education, and education is the key to success," said McNeal. "Our mission is to promote literacy by motivating and encouraging at-risk youth to read.

"I grew up with the odds stacked against me. Both of my parents are incarcerated, and several other family members have spent time in prison. I had many opportunities to continue down the same path, but I refused to be a bench warmer in the game of life."

Pathway to success

Despite the chances to take a different path in life, McNeal's journey ultimately led him to Point Park as a student-athlete in the fall of 2012. He started his college basketball career at a highly ranked team in NCAA Division II. He then moved on to a community college seeking a better balance. Not being able to find the right fit of basketball and academics, he eventually found both at Point Park.

McNeal had an outstanding basketball career with the Pioneers. He needed only two years to put up 1,056 career points and ranks 17th on the school's all-time scoring chart. But it's what he learned there and the people he met that has allowed him to make his organization, Go Pro in the Game of Life, a reality.

"Our belief is that every child with a solid reading foundation and game play for life can achieve success even when facing challenging situations," he said. "Early in life, my father instilled in me the conviction that reading is key to success. I know that enabled me to focus and have discipline while progressing through K-12 and then college."

Building a foundation

McNeal leads the "Go Pro in the Game of Life" effort by being his foundation's front man out in the community. There are several programs that he has developed as presentations to kids at elementary schools, summer camps and other organizations. These include the "T.E.A.M.H.O.O.P. (Together Everyone Achieves More, Helping Others Overcome Pressure) program", which features story-time reading at elementary schools. There's also the "Back to School Hip-Hop Reading Summit," a program for the start of the school year.

In a sports setting is the "Get off the Bench and Get into the Game of Life Ball-Handling Clinic". There he opens up with a 90-minute basketball skills session for kids followed by his presentation that encourages reading and getting a game plan for life.

Kool Kat in the Hat Man

That's just to name of few of the programs, which also include McNeal taking on the persona of the "Kool Kat in the Hat Man," a rapper whose main song repeats the chorus "I will succeed, I believe I read."

It's all part of an effort to present the topic of reading education through a mix of sports, music and more. McNeal has found that this approach has been a successful way to get the message across to young people. "My success academically is because of my reading background," said McNeal. "Reading helped me develop work ethic, discipline, mental toughness and gave me confidence and the ability to retain information.

"And my skills in basketball provided me an opportunity to go to college. I want to use those skills that I learned in my education and in basketball to pass on to youngsters in the community the importance of education."

Communication is key

McNeal's studies in advertising and public relations at Point Park have helped him develop the communications skills to spread his message of "Go Pro in the Game of Life" and develop his non-profit strategy.

His time at Point Park has also afforded him the opportunity to collaborate with other students, such as those majoring in photography and cinema and digital arts, to collect pictures and shoot documentary videos to spread his message.

Read more about "Go Pro in the Game of Life."

Text by Kevin Taylor, director of athletic communications and assistant athletic director
Photo by Zachary Labos, a senior in the SAEM program
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University.