INDIANAPOLIS — With chattering teeth, eyes the size of silver dollars, and arms wrapped tightly around one another, the group of New Palestine High School athletes huddled together.
They were trying their best to stay warm and support one another while standing on the banks of the frozen Eagle Creek. The warmth, they knew, was a temporary comfort.
Dressed in superhero costumes, the students, including one wearing only a patriotic head band and shorts, were waiting for the signal to brave the frigid water.
They were just one of many groups from all across Indiana on Saturday taking part in the 16th annual Freezin’ for a Reason Polar Plunge to benefit Special Olympics Indiana.
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“I knew I was going to do this again,” senior Chaz Hill said with a smile.
He jumped in the cold water last year and vowed he’d work hard to get even more students involved in the fundraiser his senior year.
“It’s for such a great cause,” Hill said. “I just love it and think it’s fun.”
The event at Eagle Creek was the last of 15 different plunges this year to raise money for Special Olympics Indiana, a nonprofit organization that provides year-round sports training and athletic competition for people with intellectual disabilities.
The students had to raise at least $75 each to take the plunge, a seemingly hefty fee for a dip in frigid water toward the end of winter. But they met the challenge with a positive attitude.
“I’m super happy to help out with this cause and be here,” New Palestine High School student Kenzie Wells said.
The students raised the money through the school’s student council via the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s Champions Together program.
Champions Together is a partnership between the IHSAA and Special Olympics that promotes servant leadership among athletes.
For the New Palestine students, the cause was one they could get behind.
“We liked the fact it was raising money for an athletic group, the Special Olympics,” New Palestine’s Sarah Rominger said.
Rominger and Hill led the charge for the group to pick the Polar Plunge as a way to show support. As part of the Champions Together program, the students have to raise at least $1,500 for a charity of their choosing, complete 80 hours of community service, create art work and an educational campaign.
“We’ve done some other fundraising, but (the Polar Plunge) kind of pushed us over the top to finish our fundraising for the year,” Rominger said.
Champions Together encourages students to take the lead in choosing the direction of their fundraising campaign.
“Officials with the program challenged student athletes to come up with a community event to be a part of,” said Kelly Ries, Special Olympic Indiana marketing director.
With 67 percent of the Special Olympics budget coming from individuals and corporations, Ries said that leaves the remainder of funding for the operating budget to come from fundraising events.
“This is our signature fundraising event,” Ries said. “We’re thrilled that the students from New Palestine High School jumped on because they’re our next generation of support.”
While the students were gung-ho while waiting in line to jump in, as they approached the edge of the water they had to rely on their superhero confidence to take those final frigid steps. And the result? Not unlike what you might expect.
“It was super, super cold,” New Palestine High School student Natalie Kehrt said. “But it was a lot of fun.”
As for Hill, he was the lone participant from the New Palestine group to emerge himself completely from head to toe in the ice cold water.
“I can’t feel my feet, but I know it’s for a good cause,” he said. “So it’s all good.”
This year’s “Freezin’ For A Reason” Polar Plunge was the 16th year for the event at Eagle Creek Park and was one of 15 plunges that took place this winter. Participants had to raise a minimum of $75 to plunge, and proceeds benefit Special Olympics Indiana.
Last year’s Polar Plunge events raised $580,000.
Special Olympics Indiana is a nonprofit organization that provides year- round sports training and athletic competition in more than 20 Olympic- type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The organization serves more than 11,000 people.