Wednesday, March 19, 2014
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Dozens to 'take the plunge' Saturday

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[March 19, 2014]  This Saturday, Lincoln Lakes will be the site of an unusual annual ritual for many Logan County residents. Donned in team colors, wild costumes, or just in T-shirts and sweats, groups will take a deep breath and charge into the frigid waters of Lincoln Lakes.

Groups have done this locally every year since 2009. But their silliness, while enjoyable for all the spectators, is much more than fun and games for the participants. It means fun and games for thousands of young people and adults who every year get to experience the joy of "special" Olympic games geared just to them.

More than 21,300 Special Olympics athletes and nearly 13,000 young athletes have benefited from the more than $10.2 million that has been raised by over 40,000 plungers in the past 15 years.

The Polar Plunge for Special Olympics began in 1999 at Lake Bluff. That year 150 people took the plunge and raised over $34,000 for Special Olympics programs across the state. By 2004, there were 12 plunge sites. That year a total of 1,073 plungers raised nearly $191,000 for Special Olympics.

In 2009, the Lincoln community joined in the fun and in the first year raised $25,000 with several dozen people running into the lake. Afterward everyone was invited back to the Knights of Columbus Hall in Lincoln for a beach party that included hot food and drinks and special celebration activities.

In 2010, Lincoln upped the ante, raising over $37,000. The team raising the most was the DeKalb team at $12,442, and the local Wal-Mart team came in at $8,119.72. That year the outside temperature was 40 degrees, but sunny weather brought the water temperature up to a steaming 50 degrees.

In 2011, Lincoln once again proved what it was made of, raising $45,682 for Special Olympics. The team that stood out that year was Team Wal-Mart, a group that consisted of 15 members and raised $11,335 on their own. They also challenged Wal-Mart corporate to match their money, and the company came through with an additional $11,000 for Special Olympics.

2012 was a very good year for jumping in the lake. The outdoor temperatures exceeded 70 degrees on plunge day, bringing out approximately 180 plungers. It was also St. Patrick's Day, so many of the plungers put on their green to go jump in the lake. The big winner that year was the Lincoln Junior High School Trojan team that raised over $6,000.

Last year, 2013, the plungers saw a chilly day with water temperatures at the lake being only 36 degrees. Nonetheless, 204 plungers took the dive and raised almost $50,000 for their efforts. The SOILL Board Backers took the prize for the most money raised with $10,920. Among the many other prizes given out at the after-party was an award for the team with the most plungers. That honor went to the LJHS Trojans with 30. The best costume awards went to Farmers Bank and Team Army.

During last year's after-party, the honorary plungers for the 2014 event were also named, which will be the "Lynx won't sink" team. As the honorary team, they will be the first to dive into the water. Whether or not that is actually an honor may be questionable for the group, as they will be the first to experience and express what it feels like to be soaking wet in frigid water. Given responses from past years, everyone will be happy to be there, "Freezin' for a Reason."

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Other teams that will be returning this year are the Lincoln High School and Lincoln Junior High teams, and Eaton will be back as well as Wal-Mart.

There will also be some new teams this year, among them a group representing the Mount Pulaski school district.

On Saturday, plungers are asked to gather early at the Lincoln Knights of Columbus.

Registration and turning in of donations begins at 10 a.m. At noon participants and spectators will be bused out to Lincoln Lakes for the plunge.

After a few words from guest speakers and the singing of the national anthem, the first team will come to the edge of the water, and with the sound of the starter pistol, plunge in, feet first.

Rules for the plunge include no diving in headfirst, although there have been a few who did cartwheels after getting in the water. Teams may wear anything but a wet suit, and costumes are encouraged. Also, no one can go into the water barefoot.

There will be changing tents at the lake so plungers can get out of their wet clothing before being bused back to the Knight of Columbus for the after-party.

Finally, one does not have to be a member of a team to take the plunge. Individuals who wish to participate and have raised the required $75 minimum can register the day of the event and will be sent into the water with other groups of individuals.

Food will once again be served free of charge to plungers and with a minimal fee for guests at the Knights of Columbus. The after-party will include announcements about dollars raised and the best teams.

Prizes will be awarded to individuals who raise $250, $500 or $1,000. Other special acknowledgements usually include the oldest plunger, the team with the most members, teams with the best costumes and much more.

And, the public is encouraged to come out Saturday as well. Cheer on your favorite team, enjoy the costumes and antics of the plunge, and be sure to buy a "Too Chicken to Plunge" T-shirt at the after-party!


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