This year’s Polar Plunge in Vermillion, set to take place tomorrow, Saturday, Feb. 15, should be a record-setter. At least that’s the hope of organizer Jon Cole, a Vermillion police officer who is also assistant director of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, the organization which sponsors the plunge each year.
“This year's Polar Plunge should be more fun and exciting than in years past,” said Cole. “There are a lot of new things going this year. We will kick off the festivities at 2 p.m. cheering on the USD Women's Basketball vs. Oral Roberts at the Old Lumber Company. Shortly after that, registration will begin at 3 p.m. with the Polar Plunge beginning around 4 p.m. when the game is over.
“After the Polar Plunge, we have a comedic entertainment group "Improv Falls" who does a "Whose Line is it Anyway" type show which is very funny and entertaining,” he said. “This show is free of charge. At 7 p.m., we will cheer on the USD Men's Basketball vs Oral Roberts. There will be a raffle for door prizes during both basketball games.”
Everyone is encouraged to attend the Polar Plunge event or to participate in it.
“Attend to watch and cheer the USD Basketball programs along with having fun supporting and raising funds for our athletes of Special Olympics,” said Cole. “The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.”
So far, more than 50 people have committed to be part of the 2020 plunge through the website (plungesd.org/locations/vermillion/) with more than $5,500 raised so far. Last year’s plunge in Vermillion raised just over $20,000. This year’s goal is to have 125 plungers raising $25,000.
It’s easy to participate, said Cole.
“If you would like to participate, you can sign up all the way up to the time of the plunge,” he said. “Every jumper would need to raise $100 and there are incentive prizes for our top fundraisers. There is also one $500 scholarship awarded to a student for every 25 students that take the plunge.
“You can also raise money and not take the plunge in our ‘Too Chicken to Plunge’ as well,” he said. “Registration and fundraising can all be done online at www.plungesd.org.”
All of the money raised through the Polar Plunge will go to the Special Olympics of South Dakota. Vermillion currently has two teams of Special Olympic athletes, one consisting of local school district students and one made up of SESDAC athletes totaling roughly 70 participants. Most of the money raised for Special Olympics South Dakota will stay in Vermillion to help those athletes and to help with the SD Special Olympics South Dakota Summer Games, which will take place in Vermillion May 21 to 23 this year.
“Not only does Special Olympics provide sporting competitions but they also provide healthy athlete screenings during the state events,” said Cole. “Special Olympics South Dakota is growing at a remarkable rate with new athletes. Vermillion is once again the proud host of the Special Olympics Summer Games and proceeds from the Polar Plunge help athletes for the state event.”
But the Special Olympics also serves another important function beyond supporting athletes. For the community, the Special Olympics tend to bring out the best in people and the community, said Cole.
“Not only does the money raised help the program, but it has a unique ability to help those that get involved by opening their hearts and become a better person,” said Cole. “As a police officer, I see the worst that society has to offer. With my involvement in volunteering to help Special Olympics, I get to see the best that society and we as human beings have to offer. The athletes welcome all with open arms and accept you for who you are.
“Last year (University of South Dakota) Athletic Director David Herbster and I sat back for a brief moment during the Summer Games to take it all in ...we saw a community of inclusion. There were local ‘townies,’ USD students, and volunteers all coming together cheering on athletes, giving them high fives, and helping them achieve what so many didn't think would happen,” he said. “This was the miracle that Special Olympics provides. Bringing a community together and the best out of us all to help each other reach for gold.”