Anthony “Big Tony” Schnipke, center, is surrounded his friends and senior members of Ottoville boys basketball team, from left, Coach Keith Untendorf, Ryan Bendele, Zane Martin, Nick Moorman, Keagan Leis and Andy Schommoeller. (DHI Media/Nancy Spencer)
Anthony “Big Tony” Schnipke, center, is surrounded his friends and senior members of Ottoville boys basketball team, from left, Coach Keith Untendorf, Ryan Bendele, Zane Martin, Nick Moorman, Keagan Leis and Andy Schommoeller. (DHI Media/Nancy Spencer)
OTTOVILLE — The L. W. Heckman Gymnasium is packed full of Big Green fans. The first strains of “Are You Ready?” by AC/DC crash into the gym and everyone gets to their feet and begins to dance. It’s an Ottoville boys basketball game.

Director of Basketball Operations Anthony “Big Tony” Schnipke wouldn’t have it any other way. Schnipke was in charge of the music during practice and home games and traveled with the team to away games.

Boys varsity basketball Coach Keith Utendorf had called Anthony’s mom, Sabrina Schnipke, several months before the season started.

“He told me he saw Anthony in the halls and people were drawn to him,” she said. “He wanted to have Anthony come in the gym during practices. I’m super protective and I just didn’t know how it was going to work out.”

Schnipke, who has autism, is sensitive to noise and as a rule, would avoid the gymnasium. He can often be seen wearing earbuds with music playing.

“All of my fears disappeared the first time I saw him with the boys. They treat him like a brother,” Sabrina said. “We hear so much about school shootings, stabbings and bullying. Everyone at Ottoville has rallied around Anthony. I think it’s a direct reflection on how good the parents are.”

Anthony missed a game due to illness and Sabrina’s phone was flooded with calls and texts making sure he was OK.

“They didn’t have to be concerned. They didn’t have to care,” she said. “But they did.”

His father, Jason Schnipke, agrees.

“It started with the kids and then the parents and everyone else jumped in,” he said. “It’s been a good experience for Anthony and us. He’s learning about life.”

Mom isn’t always thrilled with some of what he comes home with.

“I have to remind him sometimes that locker room talk isn’t appropriate anywhere else,” she said. “And then I do a little fist pump because that’s what any other 16-year-old would do.”

When he’s not in charge of music, Schnipke goes into the locker room before games and at halftime to pump the team up.

“He tells them to play hard, work hard and have fun doing it,” Sabrina said. “When they lost, he would tell them winning didn’t happen on the court, it happens in your heart, and they were all winners to him.”

The boys just know “Big Tony” is a part of the team.

“We really enjoy having him on the team,” senior Keagen Leis said. “He’s positive and there was definitely more life around the gym during practice.”

Andy Schimmoeller also likes music so he and Tony have a common bond.

“I hung out with him every practice and we bonded talking about music; music and movies. He knows his stuff,” Schimmoeller said. “He’ll make your day. You never see him not smile or playing the air guitar.”

Zane Martin and Anthony often exchange fist bumps in the hallway.

“We always have a conversation,” Martin said. “We talk about how each other’s day is going.”

“He’s a really good guy and smart,” Ryan Bendele said. “I like hanging out with him.”

Nick Moorman appreciated Anthony’s interactions with the coach this season.

“He called coach our for using ‘airport’ words and it’s funny,” Moorman said. “He always brightens my mood.”

Anthony would also help Utendorf during practice.

“He has my back and I have his,” Utendorf said. “Everyone has Tony’s back.”

While Anthony is learning to navigate his world, Sabrina and Jason are pleasantly surprised by the comments of other parents.

“The kids have taught Anthony so much but we’ve had so many parents tell us how much he has taught their kids; things like understanding and patience,” Sabrina said.