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Former Spartan delivers tale of hope in Canton charter speech

Brad Kadrich

2/28/2014

Former Spartan delivers tale of hope in Canton charter speech
By Brad Kadrich
Staff Writer
When Anthony Ianni was in middle school, he was bulled into sticking his tongue to a frozen pole by a
fellow student who Ianni said made it his mission to be a bully.
Years later, as Ianni was leaving the Breslin Center – the home of the Michigan State Spartans, with
whom Ianni won a pair of Big Ten championship rings – a man approached him with a basketball in
hand and asked for his autograph.
The man? That same bully from middle school, providing Ianni with evidence that, despite life’s
challenges, he had made it to the top.
“Here was a guy who bullied me and now he was asking for my autograph,” Ianni said. “I proved that
bully wrong.”
Ianni, now a motivational speaker working with the Autism Alliance of Michigan, related that story to
fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders during an appearance Thursday at Canton’s Achieve
Charter Academy.
Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of 4, Ianni was the victim of bullying as a child.
He went on to graduate from Michigan State University and became the first known individual with
autism to play college basketball. He has won a number of awards, including MSU’s Tim Bograkos
Walk-On Award and the 2012 MSU Unsung Player Award and was named a 2013 Detroit Pistons
Community Game Changer Finalist.
And he did it all while toppling pretty much everyone’s expectations.
“What I love about my story is that doctors told my parents I’d never do well in high school, never
graduate college, never do well in sports,” Ianni said. “My father always said, ‘The harder you work,
the more you earn.’ That quote helped me graduate from one of the toughest universities in the
country.”
Achieve Charter Academy Principal Jennifer Conley said Ianni’s presentation fits in well with the
school’s curriculum.
“We spend a lot of time talking about our morals curriculum,” Conley said. “Knowing (Ianni’s) story felt
like it would be an appropriate topic for the kids.”
Ianni is on the “Relentless Tour,” a first-of-its-kind anti-bullying initiative that will take Ianni to more
than 650 schools this year. He points out that, like him, between 65 and 90 percent of individuals with
autism become victims of bullying, “because they’re easy targets,” he said.
Ianni’s purpose in being involved with the tour is to stop that. During his presentation, he tells his
story, points out that celebrities like Eminem have been victims of bullies and risen above it and urges
kids to “have respect” for everyone in their lives – teachers, other students and family.
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He also tells the story of the middle school student at his very first speaking engagement who
apologized to the victim after hearing Ianni speak.
The message hit home with Achieve students like Ryan Henderson, a 14-year-old eighth-grader.
“It was inspiring,” Ryan said. “I was bullied a lot in sixth grade. (Ianni) inspired me to live my dream.”
That’s the message Ianni hopes kids get from his presentation. The last five minutes or so of his
speech focus on the letters “LYD” – Live Your Dreams.
“The message is simple: Never give up on anything or anybody in your life,” he told the kids. “There’s
only one person who can stop you – you.”
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