An all-star lineup of senior Nebraska football players will take to the hardwood to face a team of local talent in the second annual Heroes-Hoops-Hope charity basketball game Tuesday night at Lynn Farrell Arena on the Hastings College campus.
Former Michigan State University basketball player Anthony Ianni will join the Husker squad in the 7 p.m. contest and speak at halftime on anti-bullying and his own journey to overcome the challenges of being autistic.
The event is free and open to the public with a freewill offering to be taken to raise money for the Kids & Dreams Foundation.
Huskers slated to participate include Spencer Lindsay, Brad Simpson, Tyson Broekemeier, Austin Williams, Joey Felici and Tyler Evans. The coaches are Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Brandon Reilly.
Players will be available after the game to sign autographs and pose for photos with fans.
Players dressing out for the home team coached by Sandy Creek High School’s Jared Blackwell and Matt Swartzendruber include Travis Klanecky, Justin Biegel, Jake Hamburger, Tyler Hinchey, Zac Foster, Greg Berndt, Drake Beranek, Dave Griek, Jeremiah Slough, Ryan Sullivan and Aaron Bly.
“I hope to fill the arena,” said Bly, who lives in Kenesaw and is president of the Kids & Dreams Foundation. “We set it up in an autism-friendly environment and will turn off the buzzer to let people know there are people out there with sensory issues. We’ll also have sensory bags with ear muffs and stress balls to help them get through that.
“Obviously we want to raise awareness of autism. More than that, we want to make it so people understand what other individuals go through, and that even though they struggle with some things, they can still make huge progress and do amazing things like we’ve seen from Anthony.”
Ianni was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 4. The developmental disorder impedes an individual’s ability to function socially at school, work and other areas of life. Told he would likely spend his adult life living in an instutionalized environment with other autistic patients, Ianni overcame the bleakly restrictive prognosis of doctors to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology at Michigan State.
Told he would never play sports, he was instrumental in helping lead Michigan State to two Big 10 Championships and Big 10 Tournament crown.
Now employed by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, he has become a much sought after speaker whose “The Relentless Tour” messages on anti-bullying and living one’s dream have been shared at schools and other venues across the nation.
In addition to his halftime message at the charity game, he will retell his story at 11 Nebraska schools, including five engagements in Adams County — at 8 p.m. Monday at Hastings College in Wilson Center Auditorium; and during school hours Tuesday at Kenesaw, Adams Central, Sandy Creek and Harvard.
“Anthony’s anti-bullying message and story really match up with what our mission is about as a foundation,” Bly said. “When I saw his video about two years ago, I knew instantly I wanted to get him out to Nebraska and it worked out for us to do that.”
Kids & Dreams Foundation was established by Bly in November 2013 after his son, Trae, was diagnosed with autism at age 3. Its mission is to provide support for children of all ages and their families dealing with autism, bullying and other challenges of the disorder.
Now in sixth grade, Trae continues to make significant progress in his journey, “doing things we and others didn’t think were possible,” Bly said.
Funds raised from the event will be used to help provide resources for autistic children and families, including Operation Shine Camp for Kids June 9-11 at Covenant Cedars Bible Camp near Hordville, and the Autism Conference for parents and families Oct. 6 at Younes Conference Center in Kearney.