Rutgers Student with Cerebral Palsy Taking a Shot at His Dreams

This story was published by Rutgers Today in October, 2012. Here is the link to the original story.

Anthony graduated from Rutgers University in May. He will begin working as a consultant for Drew University’s men’s basketball program this September. You can follow his blog at

Rutgers Student with Cerebral Palsy Taking a Shot at His Dreams

Senior Anthony Bonelli is working toward a career in sports broadcasting

By Andrea Alexander

Anthony Bonelli on air at the WRSU radio station with Corey Crawford and Adam Bergo. Photo by Nick Romanenko.By age 4, Anthony Bonelli had fallen in love with sports, even though he would never be able to throw a ball.

When Bonelli was 10 days old, he suffered a brain hemorrhage that caused cerebral palsy, affecting his mobility and speech. He depends on a motorized wheelchair and relies on technology for help with learning and communication.

But regardless of his condition, Bonelli is ambitious and unstoppable. The Rutgers senior, who is majoring in journalism and media studies, is working toward a career as a sports broadcaster.

“I knew that I wouldn’t be able to play so I wanted to find a way that I could still be involved in sports and do what I love,’’ said Bonelli, who has a recurring spot as a sports analyst on WRSU, a Rutgers radio station, and wants to be an advocate for retired NFL players.

His passion for sports came from watching his older brother, who played football, basketball, baseball and soccer. And his drive can be traced back to his mother, Diane, who fought to keep him in public school, made sure he had the same opportunities as other children and could follow his dreams.

Bonelli’s break came when he was 14 and his mother pushed for him to attend the Bruce Beck and Ian Eagle Sports Broadcasting Camp on the Montclair State University campus.

Any concerns the sportscasters had about admitting Bonelli quickly disappeared on his first day when he took a deep breath and bravely read through a script in front of a camera.

“It was like he played the game of his life,’’ said Mike Quick, a high school sports reporter for the MSG sports network and a camp instructor. “All of a sudden he slowed down his breath and you could hear what he was saying. In all the years teaching class, it was without question my most special moment as a teacher to see him pull through that.’’

For Bonelli, the faith the instructors showed in him was life changing.

“I used to be deathly afraid of speaking in front of people, but they gave me the confidence to be able to do it,’’ Bonelli said.

Anthony Bonelli at camp in 2003 with Ian Eagle and Bruce Beck.The experience at camp helped open other doors. He became close with the sportscasters, and met and interviewed hall of fame players. One year, retired basketball player Karl Malone, who holds the NBA record for most free throws, gave Bonelli his hall of fame jacket, claiming it didn’t fit.

Bonelli also had a chance to interview retired Jets football quarterback Ray Lucas, who is still coping with pain from injuries he suffered while in the NFL. That meeting inspired Bonelli to want to be an advocate for retired players.

“I could see he was really struggling and I wanted to do something about it,’’ Bonelli said. “It really touched me because I know what he is going through. I know what it’s like waiting for insurance companies to approve a procedure to make you feel better.’’

Bonelli applied to Rutgers three years ago after completing his associate degree from Warren County Community College, near his Washington Township home. Around the same time, Bonelli underwent surgery to have a baclofen pump implanted in his stomach. The pump releases medicine into his system to regulate muscle spasms and has helped improve his speech and muscle control.

“I breathe a lot better, I eat a lot better, it is something that has really changed my life,’’ Bonelli said. “Every day is better.’’

At Rutgers, Bonelli lives with a full-time aide in a specially adapted apartment on the Busch Campus. His apartment is equipped with a lift that can pick him up and place him in his wheelchair and motion sensor lights that turn on when he enters the room.

The Rutgers Office of Disability Services scans Bonelli’s textbooks and burns them onto a CD so he can use a software program that reads his coursework to him. The office provides assistants for Bonelli to dictate his homework to and take notes in class. He also recently started using voice recognition software that makes it possible for him to give his computer voice commands and dictate his homework when an aide isn’t available.

Anthony Bonelli with former Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin in 2011.The connections Bonelli made at sports camp continued to pay off at Rutgers. A fellow camper introduced Bonelli to Jim Carr, Rutgers assistant men’s basketball coach at the time.

Carr had a son who had health problems and died at the age of 2 ½. Carr and Bonelli formed an instant connection. The assistant coach asked Bonelli to write up scouting reports for the team. When they would meet to review the reports, Carr’s first question to Bonelli was usually, “How are you doing in school?’’

“He would say, ‘If you are not doing well, I will kick your butt,’’’ Bonelli said. “It was never about basketball, it was more about friendship. He was my mentor and inspiration.’’

Carr, who is now an assistant coach at the University of Rhode Island, made sure Bonelli had tickets to every basketball game. He would always look for Bonelli in the stands.

“Seeing him in the student section was special to me,’’ Carr said. “For a couple of hours he was a kid with no care in the world other than whether Rutgers was going to win. I appreciate that he cared that much and for those two hours he was the most normal kid in the world.’’

Bonelli is also still an important part of the broadcasting camp he attended as a teenager, and is invited back every summer to speak.

“I think it’s important for these kids who say, ‘I can’t,’’’ said Quick, the camp instructor. “Really, you can’t? Look at this guy. The word doesn’t come out of his mouth.’’

At the camp, Bonelli’s determination set him apart. NBC sportscaster Bruce Beck, a camp founder, called Bonelli an inspiration and a hero.

“He doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘no’ and he doesn’t take no for an answer,’’ Beck said.

“Derek Jeter, Eli Manning, David Wright and Carmelo Anthony are all superstars in New York but they have nothing on Anthony. He is as driven as those guys to excel and be a star,’’ he said.

Photo credit: Nick Romanenko (WRSU studio photo)