Alumni Success: Special Education Teacher Creates Special Needs Sports Organization [VIDEO]

A view of Spectrum Sports with people working out.

A glimpse into a former special education teacher’s career pivot

After graduating and launching his special education career in 2011 and teaching for 10 years, alumnus Dan Minko noticed a gap in available recreation and athletic opportunities for people who are a part of the special needs community. To fill the gap and serve the community, he created Spectrum Sports.

Dan Minko, owner of Spectrum Sports

Spectrum Sports is an inclusive sports organization that also offers social activities. They offer different types of classes, including sports and games such as soccer, basketball, obstacle course, capture the flag and more.

Dan shares, “I was a teacher for ten years, and halfway through I realized there was nothing really available outside the class, after school, for my students to engage and participate in on a consistent basis. So we started with one class with two athletes, and now we’re in three different counties, and continuing to grow and build. I feel so passionate about this and fulfilled doing this every single day. I was an English and special needs teacher for ten years, in a South Jersey school in Gloucester County, I loved the community, but it was repetitive, and I wasn’t being entirely fulfilled. Then COVID-19 hit and that’s when Spectrum exploded and I felt really passionate. I wake up so happy and enthusiastic.”

What during your teaching career stuck out to you, making you want to branch out?

“I don’t think something necessarily stuck out to me, I think it was just the reassuring thought that there was so much more out there for me to achieve by growing this business. I loved teaching and the students but it’s more of the same thing every day.”

Dan then went on to share a story, “When I was an undergrad I volunteered at Special Olympics with a friend whose brother had Down Syndrome. That was really my first experience with the special needs community and it was like I fell instantly in love with them. I was in charge of the dance party after all the activities and one thing led to another and I was just on the dance floor partying with everyone and having a good time you get to talk to the families and they are such passionate great people, and when you talk to those with special needs it’s the same. They need a voice and an outlet, and I decided I could be that.”

Dan then touched more on some of the upcoming events, “We are now hosting free social events, like our upcoming spring fling 1920 Great Gatsby where we are providing everything and giving everyone a chance to get together and celebrate life and each other’s company. The community I’m trying to build is one where we are all accepting, loving, and trying to support each other. Our community’s mission is to bring the awareness that those with Special Needs are just like everyone else and that they should be treated as such.”

Two athletes stand with two Spectrum Sports staff behind a Spring Fling 2022 sign.
Dan Minko and athletes enjoying the Spectrum Sports 2022 Spring Fling

Where do you see Spectrum Sports in five years ?

“In five years I see Spectrum Sports having multiple locations, and extending past South Jersey, all over the United States. Not just doing sports and social events, but therapeutic events as well. We want to have a farm where we have equestrian therapy, a petting zoo, where everyone can live a better and healthy life in all aspects.” 

How do you think Rowan prepared you for this?

“I worked at the Rowan Rec Center, which gave me the sports idea. I even wanted to call Spectrum Sports the Rec originally, kinda mocked after Rowan. What I loved about working at the Rec was that we were a community, everyone was friends, and I was so happy going into work every day. It definitely inspired me.”

People working on weights at Spectrum Sports.
A look inside of one of the classes offered at Spectrum Sports

He added, “I started in the main office, when you walked in the door they greeted you, they really wanted you to do well academically. You want to be CPR certified, good with computers, it’s a lot more than just putting back weights.”

With a mission to bring awareness and break the stigma directed toward the special needs community Dan Minko is opening so many doors and changing so many lives of families all over southern New Jersey. As Spectrum Sports continues to grow and expand, so does its outreach with its owner hoping for Spectrum Sports to, sooner than later, have multiple branches and be open seven days a week with more resources for athletes while still allowing for them to make lasting memories and bonds. 

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Written by: Asiya Robinson, Senior Writing Arts Major, Creative Writing and Journalism Minor