NEW YORK (AP) ? Special Olympics has always been near and dear to basketball analyst Deb Antonelli.
Her 21-year-old son Frankie is a Special Olympics athlete who just completed his sophomore year in Clemson University’s LifeProgram.
She wanted to do something to help raise money and awareness for South Carolina Special Olympics. So about a year ago, she came up with the concept of ’24 Hours of Nothing But Net.” She vowed to make 2,400 free throws ? 100 per hour? for 24 straight hours. She did just that over the weekend, making 2,400 of 2,553 free throws , hitting at an amazing 94% accuracy, at the Mount Pleasant Town Hall gym.
Antonelli, who lives in the area, has already raised over $80,000 and that number is growing as more people have heard about feat.
“I got a little emotional thinking about how hard I trained and how long I spent in the gym and all the money we raised for Special Olympics,” Antonelli said in a phone interview Monday. “Watching Frankie and seeing how excited and happy everyone was. I know I was motivated for a higher purpose.”
She talked to local officials and the South Carolina Special Olympics board last year to get there help. They had no idea how successful it would be thanks to Antonelli’s efforts.
“What an incredible event that Deb put together for Special Olympics,” said Barry Coates, who is the President and CEO of the Special Olympics South Carolina chapter. “The amount of money she was able to raise for a first time event was awesome and far exceeded our expectations. Even more impressive was the awareness for our athletes garnered by her efforts.”
DePaul coach Doug Bruno was one of many college coaches who donated to the event.
“The Special Olympics means a ton to our DePaul program,” he said. “Debbie’s idea is a great one and I think it would be one of the easiest fund raisers and fun raisers to do nationally.”
Bruno’s god daughter Maureen, who is in her 40s, has Down Syndrome and has been on the team’s bench for 30-plus years.
“The first DePaul game Debbie did was in 1999 and Maureen was on the bench and we started talking about Frankie,” Bruno recalled. “The Special Olympics has been a huge part of her life and mine.”
The weekend was about more than just free throws. There was a basketball festival during the day with a food truck. There was also a Special Olympics and Unified Partner Dance on Saturday night that was DJ’d by Frankie. College of Charleston head basketball coach Earl Grant and former Chicago Cubs minor-leaguer Chris Singleton spoke during the Breakfast of Champions on Sunday morning.
Singleton’s mother was one of nine people killed in 2015 in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting.
“I knew he’d be better than any other Sunday morning service in Charleston that day,” Antonelli said.
The event was livestreamed and many players and coaches offered their well wishes and spread the word on social media.
“One person gave me $5,000 and watched the live stream and saw what we were doing, so they doubled their pledge,” Antonelli said.
Fittingly Frankie hit a ceremonial free throw to start off the event at noon Saturday and then hit the final one as well. Mother and son then climbed a ladder to cut down the net.
“Frankie is an unbelievable athlete. He’s obviously my inspiration and motivation,” Antonelli said. “In the gym I work out at when I’m home where the bands hang is a lanyard with a picture of Frankie on it. I know it’s there, every time I go in the gym I can always see that. That was my motivation. You can have quotes and signs, that’s not what I saw, I’d see that picture of Frankie.”
Antonelli has already started to think about next year and would love to see the event grow nationally.
“This is just the start hopefully,” she said.