Hampton Athletic Hall of Fame inductee Neelan still holds 1957 family together
At least once every year, 1957 Hampton alum and former NFL player Redd Mack flies in from his South Bend, Ind. residence. George “Gee” Neelan is a big reason why.
Nehlan has been waiting a long time to be inducted into the Hampton Athletic Hall of Fame. It was a school he left 61 years ago.
“I almost had a heart attack,” said Neelan, who was named an all-star guard for Hampton basketball in the Sharpsburg Herald.
“Some of the places we played in ... Millvale we played on a stage, Etna we played in the swimming pool. It wasn’t like they have nowadays. ... They had the portable lights (in football). Sometimes they would work. Sometimes they would go out.”
Nowadays, Neelan, along with wife Betty, spend a portion of their spare time rounding up his high school friends - including Mack - for dinners and other assorted get-togethers in the area.
“Redd Mack, he’s like my brother,” Neelan said.
Turns out, the class wouldn’t be the same without Neelan, who has helped hold the “family” together all these years.
“He’s the godfather of our class,” said Mack, who estimates around 40 friends and classmates, himself included, will attend the induction ceremony this fall.
While Neelan describes his abilities in football as “average,” Mack remembers a dear friend who was willing to do anything for anyone. On and off the field.
“He did anything the coach asked him,” Mack said. “They needed a kickoff guy, he raised his hand. He kicks extra points. He wasn’t very good at it, but he did it. They needed an offensive tackle, defensive line ... he was the epitome of a team player.”
After Mack’s senior year at Notre Dame, his grandparents, who served as his primary caregivers in the area, picked up everything and moved to Salt Lake City.
“Where does my friend come in,” Mack said. “His mother called my grandmother and says, ‘don’t worry about it. We have a place for him to live. Just have him bring his bed.’ ”
Neelan would not stray far from the area, and eventually made his home with Betty. He also enjoys a good relationship with his stepdaughters, Betsy and Gina. He worked at PepsiCo for 35 years as a delivery driver for sales.
Mack attributes the camaraderie of the 1957 class to the limited selection of sports. It didn’t hurt that Neelan was one of the few with access to a vehicle -- he took them to games, dances and the movies.
“He was the class leader,” Mack said. “We were like brothers and sisters. That transferred on the football field, basketball and track. There were only three sports at Hampton, and all the same guys played all the sports. So we became real close.”