Former Spartan delivers passionate anti-bullying speech at Arenac County schools
ARENAC COUNTY — As a Division I athlete, Anthony Ianni may not be the first person one would consider a bullying victim. But Ianni, who suffers from autism, told students March 26 that he did, in fact, struggle with bullying.
Ianni visited Standish-Sterling and Au Gres-Sims as part of his Relentless Tour, which was sponsored by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the Autism Alliance. Ianni told students that despite being 6 foot 9 inches and wearing size 18 shoes, the difficulties associated with simply graduating high school were much larger than his stature.
“I overcame challenges that were taller than me and had a bigger shoe size than me,” he told AGS students.
Ianni said playing basketball and graduating from college were two things doctors and other people told him he would never do. However, he defied the odds by becoming the first Division I NCAA athlete with autism when he made the Michigan State University basketball team, earning a full-ride scholarship his senior year. He graduated from MSU in 2012.
When people told him what he could not do because he had autism motivated him, Ianni said.
“The more and more people doubted me, the more motivation I had,” he said.
Motivation was one of three keys Ianni told students he focused on each day to overcome outside influences to give up on his dreams. The other two keys were support and hard work. Ianni said his greatest support was his family and hard work was what allowed him to follow through on motivation.
Ianni said due to suffering from autism, older students picked on him from the time he was in kindergarten until his freshman year of high school. Instead of lashing out at them, Ianni said he focused on his three keys to success and let his actions do his talking for him. In the end, he said he won the battles against his bullies, recalling a time one asked him to autograph a basketball for him after a MSU game.
“Be careful what you say and do to others in life,” Ianni told students.
“That person you bully could be your boss at the place you work one day,” he added.