LCHS hosts anti-bully advocate Anthony Ianni

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Before Anthony Ianni played in two Big Ten Championships and a Final Four with Michigan State University basketball, he spent his early years coping with autism and bullies.

On Tuesday, 26-year-old Ianni will share his success story and message of autism awareness with students at L’Anse Creuse High School in Harrison Township on their first day of school.

L’Anse Creuse High School Principal Stephen Czapski said the first day of school was selected for Ianni’s presentation in order to get the school year off to a good start. This is the first time Ianni — who has spoken at our schools around Macomb County — has brought his presentation to the school.

“I hope it will teach our students that all individuals are unique and different. As a school, we have to come together and celebrate our differences if we truly want to create an atmosphere of mutual concern within our building,” Czapski said.

Ianni’s Relentless Tour is an initiative of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

“Anthony focuses on bringing attention to bullying and to helping kids find the tools and strength to fight back against bullying,” Michigan Department of Civil Rights Communications Director Vicki Levengood said.

Ianni will begin his presentation at L’Anse Creuse High School at 1:10 p.m., followed by a meet-and-greet with students.

“He is a very positive role model that was a successful student athlete at Michigan State University,” Czapski said.

Diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder on the Autism Spectrum at the age of 4, Ianni found himself the target of bullying until his freshman year in high school.

Despite daunting odds presented by doctors, Ianni graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in sociology and became the first known athlete with autism to play Big Ten basketball, participating in two winning Big Ten Championships, a Big Ten Tournament Title and as member of the 2010 Final Four team. He was the recipient of the 2011 Tim Bograkos Walk On Award and won the 2012 Unsung Player Award.

“My presentation is divided into two parts. The first part is called the motivational part. I talk about my story, being diagnosed with autism and overcoming challenges and obstacles I had,” Ianni said.

Ianni said the second section of the presentation focuses more on anti-bullying before tying everything together during the closing.

According to information from the Relentless Tour’s website, children with autism are one of the highest targeted groups to be victims of a bully, with numbers ranging from 65 percent to 90 percent. Ianni said that he personally was able to overcome bullying through basketball, earning his fellow students’ respect in high school.

“A lot had to do with basketball. Obviously growing up I played different sports. Basketball was one of them. I started playing on the basketball team. I started noticing a huge difference in the respect level given me in high school,” Ianni said.

Levengood said that Ianni’s tour has been “tremendously successful” and that currently his September calendar is booked with schools eager to hear his message.

“The main message is LYD, you’ve got to live your dreams, no matter what the obstacles are,” Ianni said.