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My View: Debbie Antonelli

Wednesday, March 23, 2022
By Debbie Antonelli
Debbie Antonelli

My son [Frankie] has Down syndrome, and you need to know that he is a full-time college student at Clemson. He is a senior getting ready to graduate in April. Just like any other college grad he is going to have a job when he graduates. Clemson LIFE (Learning Is For Everyone) is a transitional post-secondary experience for students with intellectual disability.

My parents live in Cary, and when he was six or seven my mom said “did you know that Duke has a Down syndrome program?” There’s a doctor named Dr. [Priya] Kishnani and she sees a wide population of people with Down syndrome. For the next 12 years we went to the Duke Down Syndrome Clinic at Lenox Baker.

I got a call from the Duke development office, and they wanted Frankie and I to come and tell our story at a Duke luncheon at Cameron. It was in October of 2018. I bring Clemson LIFE with me, the teachers. Jamie Spatola spoke before us. Frankie did a great job on his speech.

Coach K only opens up practice twice a year—once for the Emily K Center, and once for Duke Children’s. We went into the gym with lots of other children and families that were going to watch practice. What we didn’t know when we got there was that Coach K was going to present Frankie with a ball signed by the team.

I introduced Coack K to the Clemson LIFE teachers that run the program, this may have been the best conversation I ever had with him. He was really impressed with Frankie. Frankie is handsome, he's well spoken, he's very athletic Coach said. "When I hugged him, I could feel all of his muscles." I said, "Coach, he's got a trainer. He goes to college."

He absorbed it all. I could see he was listening. He was really interested. He didn’t have any idea that this was part of my family or part of my life. He might have thought I was just a basketball analyst. I did work many of his games as a sideline reporter. We’d get a few minutes before the game to talk with him. We didn’t get that much interaction with him. Everyone’s craving a piece of him, right?

Coach K genuinely cares. Every time I saw him, since October of ‘18, the first thing he says to me is, “How’s your son doing? How’s your family?”

[Duke] played at Clemson on [Feb. 10], and Frankie and I waited outside the locker room for Coach K. He did spend some time with Frankie, took his picture. Coach K gave him a Duke t-shirt, they chatted a little bit.

The warmness of Coach K comes out, because he looks at Frankie and he sees “Wow, look at this kid going to college! This is amazing. This is inspiring.” People don’t get to see that side of him, but I’ve seen it many times because of my interactions with him because of Frankie.