If you have never experienced the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge, let me share some highlights from this year’s event and extend the invitation for you to mark it on your calendar and join us for next year’s Plunge on January 27, 2018. The 21st Annual Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge hosted by our good friends at the Department of Natural Resources, Maryland Park Services – Sandy Point State Park, demonstrated the very best of what it means to be a Marylander. It brings to life how powerful we are when we come together in support of a movement bigger than ourselves. For the first time ever, we officially attempted to break the GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ title for the “Largest Polar Dip” in 24 hours. We are still completing the final details of the follow up application for verification, but the number is over 5,500 plungers on Saturday. We will report back when our attempt is verified! Combined with the plungers we had on Thursday and Friday, almost 9,000 supporters took the Plunge all to provide our 7,311 athletes with the opportunity to train and competed year-round in 27 different sports free of charge. While I am going to provide an extensive recap of the Plunge here, please have a look at the article posted by University of Maryland athletics on the clinic for our athletes hosted by men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon and his team. Additionally, see the brief video from the clinic put on by the Towson University Swim and Dive team.
The three day weekend plunged off on Thursday, January 26th, when over 3,000 students from 68 different schools braved the frigid waters of the Chesapeake Bay and raised an event record $326,389 during the 8th annual Cool Schools Plunge. Congratulations and thank you to South River Snohawks and Marky Kokosko for raising $34,165 as the top fundraising cool school!
On Friday, January 27th, as Governor Larry Hogan took the microphone on the stage of The Greene Turtle hospitality tent, he demonstrated his commitment to our Special Olympics Maryland (SOMD) athletes by giving them a dedicated shout out in his opening remarks when he addressed over 600 plungers representing Police/Fire & EMS/Military. Governor Hogan went on to express his gratitude to this dedicated group for their service to Marylanders across the state and for their support of our athletes. In the most emotional moment of the entire Plunge week festivities Governor Hogan delivered this heartfelt message recognizing Adam Hays as the 2017 recipient of the Jimmy Myrick Jr. Governor’s Courage Award. In honoring Adam, the Governor paid tribute to Jimmy Myrick Jr. as a person who changed the world. Jimmy transformed everyone he met (and he touched thousands) in a way that made lives more complete. Everyone whoever met Jimmy carries his spirit and courage in their hearts. Jimmy no doubt watched from heaven with pride as the Governor announced his fellow Super Plunger, Adam Hays as the 1st recipient of this award re-named by the Governor.
Following his remarks, the Governor made his way to the beach for the Police/Fire & EMS/Military Plunge presented by New Day USA, who also served as presenting partner for our Corporate Plunge which was hosted by Bryan Nehman from WBAL 1090AM. The Corporate Plunge attracted 43 teams which collectively raised $208,215. Constellation Energy was the top team at $25,550, which included the top individual fundraiser: recently appointed Special Olympics Maryland Board member Jen Herwig, who raised $9,370. Baltimore Business Journal was our official Business Media Partner helping us promote the Plunge in the Baltimore business community.
A mainstay of the Plunge tradition, the Super Plunge led by team captain and SOMD board member Donny Boyd and presented by our friends at Carnival also kicked off on Friday with the first of 24 plunges at 10:00am. The Super Plungers included an exceptionally passionate group of 28 team members who raised $290,000 and are still raising money to reach their $300,000 goal. The team included Jim and Sharon Myrick, parents of Jimmy Myrick, Jr., along with Jimmy’s aunt Kathleen Herberger who plunged in honor of Jimmy. Jimmy was honored in a number of ways throughout the 24 hour Plunge marathon which included the ringing of the “Jimmy bell” on the beach before and after plunging. When Super Plungers left the park on Saturday, they had a little more of the Jimmy Myrick Jr. legacy firmly implanted in their hearts.
We are fortunate to have exceptional partners who contribute to providing an outstanding plunge experience. Our Media partners WBALTV 11, 98Rock and WBAL1090 AM helped us celebrate this Maryland tradition with on-air promotional opportunities leading up to the event and on-site coverage highlighting the people and the stories that make this a Maryland Tradition. They do an incredible job of featuring our athletes and supporters in ways that demonstrate the power of the Plunge and Special Olympics Maryland to transform lives beyond the field of play.
When Plunge day arrived on January 28th, Founding Partner Aerotek once again demonstrated their passionate support for the event and our athletes by recruiting over 80 volunteers to register over 5,000 plungers as they entered Sandy Point State Park. Wawa handed out over 8,000 complimentary cups of coffee and hot chocolate. First-year partner Chick-fil-A (see sidebar) raised over $10,000 by distributing chicken sandwiches for a donation to Special Olympics Maryland. Long-time partner Coca Cola was the official soft drink of the plunge, and once again provided Coke products for all Plunge activities. The Greene Turtle provided exceptional VIP hospitality on the beach overlooking the Plunge Zone on Friday and Saturday. And Kelly Generator and Equipment provided 12 high powered generators while AmeriGas provided the propane that combined heated 60,000 square feet of tented space throughout the park. The biggest of those tents is the Ice Lodge presented by Ram’s Head which hosted over 7,000 guests throughout the weekend enjoying live bands from the Ram’s Head stage. Flying Dog Brewery enhanced the Ice Lodge experience for all of our adults who enjoyed the official craft beer of the Plunge.
Behind the scenes partners also played a critical role, like the Rotary of Parole which mans the Naval Marine Corps Stadium parking lot shuttle. Knights of Columbus are year-round partners volunteering and raising money across the state for our athletes and they are on-site every year to help us out. And another longtime group of supporters and plungers are the Council of Baltimore Ravens Roosts which raised over $85,000.
For me, the most inspirational under reported story of the Plunge is the power of our athletes and families to raise awareness and money. WBAL TV 11 produced and aired the story of 11 year old Oliver Clark who raised $19,222 of the $27,627 that Team Sutton raised in support of Oliver’s sister Sutton who is a Special Olympics Swimmer in Baltimore County. Oliver also inspired his classmates at the Calvert School to raise an additional $7,821.
Other top fundraising teams included Mike’s Plunge team inspired by Howard County athlete Mike Washack. They raised $25,800. Hayes Classen is another swimmer from Balitmore County who formed Team Hayes Classen. Hayes raised $17,839 of the team total $19,014. And Owen United raised $22,501 which put them over $150,000 raised since their first Plunge in 2011 all under the direction of Special Olympics athlete Owen Reynolds. The St. John Properties team was out in full force on the beach for the Pee Wee & Family Plunge on Saturday with their inspirational leader and future Special Olympics athlete Sean Doordan, Jr., who is the son of Sean and Tressa Doordan. St. John Properties was an exceptional partner using their digital boards on major highways to promote the Plunge and allowing us to inflate our Plunge Bear at their Cromwell Business Park off of I-97.
Finally, I want to thank the law enforcement community. We have a formal group known as the Law Enforcement Torch Run to benefit Special Olympics. They are an organizing force that mobilizes support from all law enforcement agencies across the state throughout the year for fundraising, awareness building, and support at competitions. While the event is known as the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge, State Superintendent Colonel Pallozzi would be the first to reinforce that it is a full-on team effort of law enforcement agencies from across the state that combine to deliver the world’s largest and most fun Plunge. I am grateful for the exceptional support of all law enforcement. They are guardians of our communities across the state and of the Flame of Hope that symbolizes the opportunity for personal growth through sport offered by Special Olympics Maryland sport programs.
I am inspired every day by our athletes, their families, the law enforcement community and all the supporters that are helping create communities of dignity and respect. Through sport, together we are creating a world where opportunity is not limited by disability.
James C. Schmutz
President & CEO