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Tom & Natalie Liniak

Sports Plus was founded by Tom and Natalie Liniak, the parents of two children, one of whom is on the autistic spectrum. After an exhaustive, nationwide search for instructional sports programs that would truly “work” for their son, and allow him to meaningfully learn and play sports and provide social and personal experiences that would provide a bridge to the mainstream world, they found a complete void. Mainstream sports classes and participants moved too quickly and unpredictably and relied heavily upon verbal instructions. Coaches utilized methodologies that did not reach or engage autistic children.  Existing adaptive programs were equally not a prime fit. An ever-growing population of children were “in-betweeners”. The prime tools of sports and play were not being capitalized on to train for life, both today and for the future.

The Liniaks developed the Sports Plus model by mixing passion, a unique curriculum and teams of highly talented coaches with extensive special education, training and sports experience that had never before been introduced to special needs participants. Almost a thousand children later, the results in increased sports and social skills, self esteem and self confidence and friendships that carry far beyond the classes are nothing short of remarkable. They describe their philosophy as follows, “we always believed that it wasn’t a matter of whether our son and others like him could learn and benefit from the worlds of sports and play, but rather how to work with both their strengths and challenges to achieve that”.  “We resolved that if it was going to be harder for our participants to learn physical and social skills, then our staff would simply need to be more talented, better trained and have a bigger bag of tricks than any that had ever been previously assembled”.

The Liniaks have been four-time nominees and the 2012 winner of the prestigious Nancy Dworkin Montgomery County Outstanding Service to Youth Award in recognition of their efforts and the high quality programs that SPORTS PLUS offers. In 2010, Tom Liniak was also nominated for the 2010 Unsung Heroes of Autism Award sponsored by the Lindt Chocolate Company and the 2010 Heroes Among Us Award sponsored by Major League Baseball. In the end, the Liniaks found an unexpected side benefit. They learned more from the participants than they ever could have imagined.