Polar Plunge nets triple elementay school’s expectations

BUCKHANNON?- The cash earnings from Saturday’s Polar Plunge- more than $7,500 – tripled Buckhannon Academy Elementary School’s expectations.

The event was proposed to raise money that will assist with upgrades to the BAES playgrounds. It is a winter event in which volunteers can offer to “take the plunge” into a natural body of water – for as long as they can tolerate the cold- as a way to earn money for the event’s cause.

“I’m really impressed with how many people have come out to support this cause and this event,” PTO Secretary Rhonda Hollen said. “When we first started talking about it and planning it, we were worried that we weren’t going to have a big turnout – and now we’re wondering ‘oh my gosh, we might have more than what we even bargained for.’ It’s been a really huge response and people have been talking about it. It’s been really exciting to see people get behind it.”

Volunteers who dared to enter the cold Buckhannon River water were able to change clothes and warm back up in special tents provided by the Upshur County Office of Emergency Management. Emergency officials, including dive teams, also were on scene and prepared to respond quickly should anything have gone wrong.

“(You have) a lot of nerves as you’re going into it,” Fourth-grade special education teacher Mike Gitzen said about the river water. “When I hit the water, it’s amazing how much of a shock it is to you. Obviously, I belly-flopped. When I came up, I was a little disoriented. I was able to luckily remember what was going on.

“It was great,” he added. “I’d do it again. I thought it was going to be worse than it actually was. It was cold, don’t get me wrong, but I was a little shocked how it wasn’t really that bad.”

BAES Principal Sabrina Skidmore said the profits generated by the daring volunteers alone totaled $6,544.88. That was just what was totaled by the end of the event. It didn’t include concessions, raffle money or on-site and online donations and sponsorships. On Sunday, Skidmore said the PTO raised a total of $7,500 with the Polar Plunge.

“Several people have asked if they can still donate so it may increase in the coming weeks,” Skidmore said.

Skidmore told The Inter-Mountain prior to the event’s start that the school and PTO set a goal of $1,500 to $2,000 for the entire event. Replacing all the playground equipment for both BAES playgrounds at the school would cost about $200,000, Skidmore said, adding that the funds to complete that ultimate goal would need to be raised in phases.

Some volunteers were able to get sponsorships to boost the funds they earned. St. Joseph’s Hospital, a partner in education with BAES, sponsored Jonathan Hicks, the husband of one of the school’s teachers. He said he took the plunge to support his wife and the school.

“It wasn’t too bad going in,” Hicks said. “I think it was worse running up the hill, trying to get changed. It was fun. I don’t think I’d do it every day, but I would do it again.”

Some daring volunteers – including Hicks who called himself Hawaiian Harry – sported beach attire for their plunge into the icy river. For safety reasons, no more than four volunteers at a time walked the boat ramp into the river from Wood Street. Some slowly crept further into the area where ice had been cut away for the event. Others made a speedier entry and some groups made a splash or fully submerged themselves under the waters.

The efforts of the volunteers – both those who took the plunge and those who supported or organized the event – helped the school and PTO complete one phase of fundraising in its ultimate goal of replacing and updating the playground equipment.

“Our playgrounds are a little bit outdated,” Hollen said. “We really think that the kids need an opportunity to be outside, to be active and to have a safe and fun place where they can play and be together. That, as an organization, has been our focus this year. As far as raising money, we’re focused on the playground.”

The Buckhannon Fire Department, Upshur County Office of Emergency Management, Upshur County Sheriff’s Office, Buckhannon Police Department and the Upshur County EMS all assisted the school with the fundraising event, which was organized and executed by the ladies of the PTO.