Special needs sports program brings fun and fitness back to community

COLLINGSWOOD, N.J. (WPVI) — “I think, sometimes, they don’t get as much credit as they

COLLINGSWOOD, N.J. (WPVI) — “I think, sometimes, they don’t get as much credit as they deserve,” said Daniel Minko, surrounded by his personal favorite athletes.

They’re not the typical stars you may see on the big screen. Instead, they are a group of teens with special needs.

“Even before COVID, you know, there’s not a whole lot of fitness and sports that are out there for people with special needs,” Minko said.

That’s why he created Spectrum Sports alongside James Paoletti. Both are special needs teachers in South Jersey.

“This population really needs it. After school, we found out that they really didn’t have anything like this,” Paoletti said. “Dan and I wanted to fill that need.”

The program started four years ago, but was reimagined due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Minko and Paoletti now hold classes three days per week in public spaces such as Knight Park in Collingswood.

There, participants can maintain social distancing and feel safer in the open air.

David Harkins is one of many parents who cheers from the sidelines as his child competes in a fitness regimen.

“After sitting around, you know, for months indoors, it was one of the greatest things to get him out and get him interacting with everyone,” he said about his son, David Jr.

“Being a kid is what it’s all about and that’s what they do here,” Harkins said.

The in-person engagement was particularly missed by Julie Waicus, whose daughter, Darcie, is non-verbal.

“It’s not like our kids can call other kids on the phone and FaceTime,” she said. “So, being here part of the group gave us that positive light in times of the pandemic.”

Spectrum Sports is currently offering their outdoor fitness classes for free. Any special needs individual is invited to participate regardless of age. In addition, they are looking for more volunteers to help conduct activities.

To learn more, visit their Facebook page.

RELATED: Children with special needs gifted custom bicycles, and their smiles are priceless

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