Inspiring Ohio placekicker excels, fundraises without full arms

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

When Anthony Bagliano was born, doctors were given the unenviable task of informing his parents that their new son would face significant struggles throughout his life. Because Bagliano was born with Holt-Oram Syndrome, more commonly known as heart-hand syndrome, he was left with arms that are less than a foot long, and a total of only seven digits on his upper limbs.

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According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Bagliano eventually was forced to undergo four different heart surgeries before the age of 2, and he is still likely to need a pacemaker in the future. All of those limitations ensured that Bagliano's life wouldn't be an easy one. Yet, instead of bending to his limitations, Bagliano chose to focus on his strengths, and has carved out a surprising, blossoming role for himself as a result: He's become one of the more reliable high school placekickers in Northeast Ohio.

"I kind of feel you should make your disadvantages your advantages," the Eastlake (Ohio) High senior told the Plain Dealer. "You show the world, I may be different, but I do everything.

"If I can accomplish my goals instead of just laying around and giving up, it shows normal people -- well, we're all normal people -- but I mean people without limitations, that they can reach their goals, too."

For Bagliano, becoming a varsity placekicker emerged as a prominent goal when he was still in middle school. While the senior doesn't have the distance to kick field goals -- though he did reportedly hit a 34-yarder in a 2010 junior varsity game -- he is 27 for 36 on extra points in 2011, including a perfect 6-for-6 game earlier this fall. Given the caustic weather changes that tend to emerge across the greater Cleveland region on Friday nights, that accomplishment is no small feat.

[Related: Prep QB continues to play despite being legally blind]

Perhaps more poignantly, Bagliano delivered the key block on an Eastlake two-point conversion in a recent game, taking out an opposing defender with a move befitting any varsity football player.

While it might seem that arms are a prerequisite for kicking a football, simply for providing a sense of balance and more strength, Bagliano has somehow perfected a style where he relies solely on his feet. Here's how Plain Dealer reporter Tim Warsinsky artfully described Bagliano's kicking technique:

He leans forward three steps behind the holder -- most kickers take two steps -- and is quick to the ball. The top of his foot cups the ball and he powers through with good lift. It is a combination of soccer style and traditional, straight-on kicking.

That innovative approach has won Bagliano plenty of admirers, including some of his most heated competitors.

Eastlake kicker Anthony Bagliano
Eastlake kicker Anthony Bagliano

"Anthony is a good kicker," Cleveland (Ohio) University School placekicker Harry Reu told the Plain Dealer. "I couldn't imagine kicking without arms. I use my arms a lot for balance and strength. It's incredible he can do it. Even after he kicks, he balances on his legs and does a bounce and catches himself and I don't know how he does that."

While most who haven't seen Bagliano's routine before are awestruck by his balance and agility, his teammates are often more dumbstruck at his toe dexterity. Warsinksi reported that the senior routinely beats his friends at Madden 12 on his Xbox. And, befitting of any teenager, he texts voraciously and drives himself around in a customized Mitsubishi with a customized steering wheel.

All of this would be more than enough to win Bagliano infinite admirers for life, which he seems to have already accomplished. Yet, when the teen's father, Henry Bagliano, and the mother of another Eastlake team member contracted cancer, it was the younger Bagliano who decided to start a charity to raise funds for cancer research.

Called "Kicking for the Cure," the Bagliano-run non-profit's first fundraising act was to sell orange shoelaces as a means of visible support; Eastlake's school colors are black and orange.

Where the charity goes from there is yet to be determined, as is Bagliano's long-term future. The teen could move into motivational speaking -- he's working with a documentary filmmaker who has turned other disadvantaged athletes into stars -- or he could just carry on with his life without football.

Either way, the teen will move on knowing that he's won scores of admirers along the way for his attitude, perseverance and open willingness to be a poster child for how no limitations can be considered complete roadblocks.

"I don't think my arms are something I'm missing," he said. "I adjust to the situation. I don't think it separates me from being as good as other people."

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