Just a few months ago, former MSU basketball player Anthony Ianni thought he would follow in the footsteps of his father, Deputy Athletic Director Greg Ianni, and pursue a career in sports administration.
That all changed earlier this month when he was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to the state’s newly created Michigan Autism Council. After speaking at various schools and events around the state since graduating in the spring, he believes he has found his true calling in social work.
“I want to make a difference in people’s lives, and I want to be able to be that hope and inspiration that people can look at, not just around the state but the nation as well,” Anthony said.
At the age of five, Anthony was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. According to medical reference website WedMD.com, autism spectrum disorders affect between two and six children in every 1,000 in the U.S., and the disorders affect three different areas of a kid’s life: social interaction, verbal or nonverbal communication and behaviors or interests.
His parents were told that he’d never be able to develop into an athlete, never be able to attend a traditional university and would likely have to live in a group home at some point.
Today, he is an MSU alumnus with a degree in sociology who played for head men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo for two years after transferring from Grand Valley State University.
“In the end, I tell people all the time that I did live in a group home,” Anthony said. “And it was with 45,000 other Green and White students. That’s one thing I’m really proud of.”
Anthony was encouraged to apply to the council after speaking at a gala hosted by the Autism Alliance of Michigan in April. He will serve for three years as one of 12 council members and hopes to work full time with the alliance.
His specific role on the council is to oversee the autism spectrum disorder community, and he hopes to use his story and experiences to help children and families affected throughout the state.
After being written off himself as a kid by doctors and therapists, Anthony said his biggest message is for people to not give up on children — no matter their age or condition.
“The Michigan Autism Council will help coordinate our state plan and help make sure individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families can live better lives,” Snyder said in a release. “I thank the appointees for their willingness to serve and eagerness to make a positive difference in the lives of others.”
Greg Ianni said his son’s experience as a student-athlete and somebody who has various disorder-related challenges throughout his life will prove valuable for the council. Although he’s not shocked Anthony veered off of the sports administration path, his knack for motivational speaking has come as a surprise.
“Personally … I’ve had two heroes in my life, and I’m very sincere when I say this — one is my late father, and the other is Anthony,” he said.
“It’s pretty exciting. The word ‘proud’ doesn’t seem to be a big enough word to explain it.”