Perfecting the pass
Shaquille Thomas had his share of doubters, but not for his skills on the basketball court. People around UC’s 6-7 guard from Paterson, N.J., questioned if he could handle college academics.
Thomas, however, soon proved he was far more than a jock who could take it to the rim. He has also shown he can hit the books. And interestingly, the freshman credits 63-year-old retired Cincinnati Public teacher Pat Neidhard for the “assist.”
“When I came here, many people didn’t think I could do the work, but I’ve proved them wrong,” he smiles. “I have a 3.5 GPA, and I have to give Mrs. Neidhard a lot of credit for that.”
Thousands of fans in Fifth Third Arena and other college venues, plus millions more sitting in front of TVs, love to watch Bearcat basketball teams. But what they don’t see is the off-court hard work of student-athletes in classrooms and study labs, learning at the side of academic tutors such as Neidhard who are concerned with their future after basketball.
A Bearcat sports fan her whole life, Patricia Gabel Neidhard, Univ ’76, Ed ’79, discovered something about herself when she began attending UC Evening College after several years in the workforce. She realized she loved education and teaching even more.
‘Knowledge is a wonderful thing’
“I learned that knowledge is a wonderful thing. So I enrolled full-time, put myself through school with grants, scholarships, loans and part-time work,” she says. “And I quickly found that I wanted to teach young people.”
Her UC degree in education led to a 32-year career spent entirely in the same Cincinnati Public School system where she had grown up. It was truly a case of an alumna doing what she must have been put on earth to do.
In 2011, retirement finally beckoned, yet the vibrant Neidhard (pronounced with a long i, “as in DieHard battery,” she says) was far from leaving students behind. At 63, her regular workouts still include swimming a mile — and doing “flip turns” at the end of each lap, she proudly says.
Barely a year into retirement, the same zest and spirit that propelled her outside of the teaching environment made her say yes when a UC friend told her about the part-time academic-tutor position for the men’s and women’s basketball programs.
“They were looking for an ‘older adult,’” she recalls. “Prior to that, student-athletes were tutored by peers, but the athletics department was looking for a different approach. They liked my experience working with urban students in the Cincinnati publics, and I started in January of 2012.”
When Neidhard walked through the doors, Shaq Thomas was in the middle of his first year at UC, sitting out as an academic redshirt. “My first impression was how energized and happy she was to be here,” remembers Thomas, a criminal justice major.
“We have developed a great relationship over the past year. In helping me with schoolwork, she has pushed me to work harder in the classroom, take extra notes and just do more to be a better student.”