INDIANAPOLIS — When the announcer at this year’s Polar Plunge said the water at Eagle Creek Reservoir was a chilly 32 degrees, a spattering of grumbles arose from the large crowd gathered for the 15th annual Polar Plunge for Special Olympics.
The event, Saturday at Eagle Creek Park, was the last in a line of Polar Plunges throughout the winter known as “Freezin For A Reason” to bring awareness for adults and children with intellectual disabilities.
When three New Palestine High School students heard the announcer mention the water frigid temperature, they shot each other a quick glance, shrugged their shoulders and smiled while they waited for the event to get underway.
Senior Ben Richter along with fellow NPHS juniors Chaz Hill and Daniel Richardson were the three hearty souls representing the school’s Student Council for Athletic Leadership in Education (S.C.A.L.E) program taking part in the charity event.
Dressed in shorts, flip-flops and a Hawaiian short-sleeved shirt, Richter said he was excited about taking the plunge for a good cause.
“I’m pretty pumped,” Richter said. “I think its going to be a lot of fun.”
Hill, who last year helped his older brother, Ty Hill, carve a hole in the pond behind their house and then watched Ty jump in, said he was looking forward to taking the same type of plunge.
“It looked really, really cold when Ty did it last year,” Chaz Hill said with a grin. “But, I don’t mind doing it for a good cause.”
For Richardson, the decision to take part was personal. His older brother Alex Richardson takes part in Special Olympic activities, including bowling.
“I’m mainly doing this because it helps my brother,” Daniel Richardson said. “But, I do think it will be fun.”
The NPHS students group S.C.A.L.E. has partnered with the Indiana High School Athletic Association and their Champions Together program and raised an estimated $1,200 for Special Olympics of Indiana and Hancock County.
The school’s athletic director, Al Cooper, said the organization is designed to teach student athletes about stepping forward to help the community.
“We are looking to provide leadership in balancing education and athletics and giving back to our community,” Cooper said. “It is critical that athletes recognize the impact they have a role models and representatives of our school.”
If the student athletes meet certain requirements, such as the fundraising, volunteering and bringing in a speaker to discuss leadership skills, they’ll be considered a “Champions Together” school.
“We’ll then get a banner hung in our main gym and that is what we are going for,” Richter said.
Part of the process was getting as many student athletes as they could to take part in the plunge, which was originally set for earlier this winter but was postponed because of bad weather.
While Richter and school officials originally had about 20 student-athletes sign up to take part in the plunge, only Richter, Hill and Richardson could do Saturday’s plunge at Eagle Creek.
“We’re the tough guys,” Richter said with a proud smile.
When officials started letting groups of people get into the Eagle Creek Reservoir, one after another, they stepped in gingerly, went about waist deep and got out as quickly as they could. But, when it time for the NPHS students, the three Dragons where some of a very few who actually immersed themselves completely under the ice cold water.
Despite the frigid temperatures, the warm smiles never left the three Dragon faces.
“I thought it was really fun,” Chaz Hill said. “It was great to see all the people who came out to support us.”
Firefighters had spent two days cutting the two-foot thick ice on the reservoir creating an estimated 25 by 50 foot area for plungers to get in. Rescue divers then lined the plunge area to encourage and protect each plunger.
“It was cold,” Daniel Richardson said with water dripping from his face. “It was actually a little colder than I thought it was going to be.”
Still, the guys say there was no way they were not going under water.
“We wanted to get our monies worth,” Richter said. “We raised over $1,000 so we were going all the way in.”
Last year, Polar Plunge events raised more than $500,000 for Special Olympics Indiana.