STEVENSVILLE — The temperature wasn’t the only thing falling in downtown Stevensville on Saturday.
With thermometers sinking as low as 12 degrees, more than 70 people took turns jumping into a large pool outside Watermark Brewing Co. to benefit the Special Olympics in the Michigan Law Enforcement Polar Plunge.
More than $29,000 was raised at the event, exceeding the $10,000 goal that was established.
“This is by far the most money we (Area 17) have ever raised with the Polar Plunge,” said Tim McDaniel, area director for Area 17 Special Olympics. “And I think it has a lot to do with the venue and the community.”
The Area 17 fundraiser benefits special Olympians in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties.
Andy West, development and events coordinator for Special Olympics Michigan, said the planning stages for the plunge took off in October after meeting with Watermark’s owners.
“We talked to the brewers about hosting the event and it was literally like a 10-minute meeting before they said, ‘We’re in,’” West said. “They’re already talking about how to make this bigger and better next year.”
Chris Mason, co-owner of the Stevensville brewery, said Watermark was approached by the local chapter that’s affiliated with the Special Olympics as they were in search of a new venue for its Polar Plunge.
Mason said he was surprised by the hundreds of people who packed the brewery and its beer garden Saturday.
“We’d love to host this again,” Mason said. “We love that this is going to support a lot of athletes throughout the state. It’s encouraging to hear that impact.”
It is estimated that Polar Plunges throughout the state will help raise funds for more than 27,000 athletes who participate in Special Olympics Michigan. Special Olympics Michigan is a year-round program offering sports training, competition and health screenings for people with disabilities.
The Watermark plunge was one of five across Michigan this weekend. There will be 30 statewide this winter, with a goal of raising $1.2 million.
Participants jumped into a pool of ice-cold water, which was filled by the Lincoln Township Fire Department. At 4 feet deep, participants got creative in their plunges.
Dressed in costumes that included Batman, Superman and Mario, plungers attempted cannon balls, belly flops and back flips.
The front row of spectators were soaked within the first few minutes of the plunge.
Jesse Harris, who took the plunge alongside other members of the Bangor Community Fire Department, said they’ve done plunges the past few years – including one in Kalamazoo last year.
“We like to support our community and we know a few kids who are a part of the Special Olympics,” Harris said. “We felt like it was our way of giving back to them.”
After jumping, participants were handed towels and ushered to a trailer behind the brewery to change into warmer clothes.
Watermark employees ended the event by diving in, one after the other, and running laps in the pool.
Tim Keathley, a principal at Lybrook Elementary School, said he and other staff at Eau Claire Public Schools were challenged by the superintendent to take part in the plunge.
“We’ve never done this, but we thought it would be a good thing,” said Keathley, who dressed as Batman for the plunge. “It was a lot warmer than I thought.”
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