INDEPENDENCE, Ohio - A former college athlete now has one goal: to eliminate bullying. He is sharing his very personal story with the hope that it will be a game changer.
Anthony Ianni was diagnosed with autism at a very young age, and remembers being bullied many times growing up.
"What they tricked me into doing at recess on this day -- just cause I have autism --was they tricked me into putting my tongue on a frozen pole at recess," Ianni told a group of students at Independence Middle School on Thursday.
His parents were told he would never graduate and he would never play sports.
"I was not told this story until my freshman year in high school. That kind of became my motivation to prove those people and any other doubters and naysayers, that they had my life wrong. I worked hard at everything, from basketball to my social life and especially school," Ianni said.
Anthony Ianni`s story is one of overcoming obstacles. He is the first known person with autism to play college basketball. He was a center for the Michigan State Spartans and helped the team win the Big Ten Conference in 2012.
"All that we cared about was supporting each other -- having each others backs no matter what and respecting one another no matter what," he added.
Anthony`s main goal these days is to eliminate bullying and to inspire and motivate others.
"You change someone's day from bad to great. You change somebody's life from terrible to incredible,” he told the Independence Middle School students.
Seventh Grader Ethan Manelski said he learned a lot from Ianni. "I got out of it like don't use your physicality on your bullies. Use your words, not your actions,” he said.
Ianni summed up his message with these three letters: L-Y-D.
"These three letters guys stand for these three words: Live your dreams. That's exactly what I encourage each and every single one of you to do for the rest of your life -- and achieve every single goal that you have set. "Because at the end of the day guys, we don't dream our lives -- we live our dreams," he said.
Ianni was a guest speaker for the Northeast Ohio Autism Group. The organization is holding a fundraiser at Corleone’s Ristorante in Parma on December 1st to support more autism awareness programs.
For more information, go to neoag.org.