Locals take the plunge for Special Olympics

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Polar Bear Plunge and balloon toss help raise $2,000

By Robin Bass

There’s just something about watching normally reserved, and often authoritative, teachers being humiliated in front of a whole classroom.


Such was the motivation for  Spencer County Middle School students who donated their loose change and a few of their parents dollar bills to help support Special Olympics.

“Our goal was $500,” said Amanda Bruce, SCMS  special education teacher. “But by Wednesday we had already collected over $400. At the end of the four days, we collected $832.10.”

Fueling the fundraising frenzy was the opportunity for the homeroom with the highest total to sling water balloons at teachers participating in Saturday’s Polar Bear Plunge in Louisville.

Sixth grade teacher Lillian Mathews earned herself a spot as a water ballon target after her homeroom won the challenge. Friday afternoon, Mathews, Bruce and band teacher Erin Pavolko huddled with their backs together as a circle of sixth graders gently tossed blue water ballons. When some failed to break, students pierced holes and squirted the teachers with the cold water.

As cold as Friday’s ordeal was for the teachers, it was no comparison to what they would endure Saturday.

Joined by five other Spencer Countians, Bruce and Pavolko arrived at the Polar Bear Plunge site and were greeted by periods of sleet and fridged winds.

“This is the only fundraiser our Spencer County team does,” said Pavolko, who also serves as a coach. “I do (the plunge) because of the kids. That’s the only motivation. Otherwise (the plunge) is crazy. ”

Of the $2076 collected, Kentucky Special Olympics will receive about $1,300 and the rest will help local athletes purchase uniforms, equipment and other necessities.

Pavolko said the community helped jumpers raise more than double the amount from last year’s Polar Bear Plunge. As a result, local children with special needs will once again be able to participate in the summer games – which help build self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment in children.

“Seeing the kids at all the events is just amazing for them – and for us,” said Pavolko.

So what’s it like to jump into the Ohio River in February?

“You have trouble catching your breath, but once you get out you’re good,” said Pavolko. “You are so cold the air actually feels warm.”