Manistee Polar Plunge raises thousands for Special Olympics

March 18, 2019 GMT

MANISTEE — Seventy-seven area residents made a big splash for Special Olympics Saturday, but nobody’s splash created a thunderous tsunami-like surf more than that of tribal law enforcement.

Three officers of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Department of Public Safety were the last of 12 teams to plunge in a four-foot deep, 15-foot-wide swimming pool as part of the Manistee Polar Plunge, to benefit athletes for Area 24 Special Olympics.

With the portable pool’s water temperature a jaw-jarring 33 degrees — two degrees colder than that of Lake Michigan a few miles to the west — Director Robert Medacco and officers Jeff Pefley and Matthew Umlauf jumped en masse into the water.


“Oh-h-h-h, that’s cold,” said Pefley. “Cold, but fun.”

With two members of the Manistee County Sheriff Department Dive Team positioned inside the pool to assist those who plunged into the icy waters, and other sheriff’s deputies standing outside the pool to continue with the assistance, the 77 plungers managed to make their collective splash in just 20 minutes, or so.

And in doing so they also managed to surpass the event’s goal of $20,000 raised for Special Olympics.

“It was a very successful day,” said Andy West, coordinator for events and development for the Special Olympics of Michigan. “We expect to raise over $23,000, though, we’ll still get donations for a while yet, so that amount will go up.

“Everyone seemed to have a good time. We’re all here to support each other. We really appreciate the support we get from law enforcement, the casino and all those who helped make this day the success it was.”

The Manistee Polar Plunge was one 30 such events held around the state in recent weeks and is the signature annual event that supports the Law Enforcement Torch Run, which last year raised about $1.5 million, with more than $1 million being raised by the series of Polar Plunges.

Jim Dennis, who serves as a behavioral health specialist for the Scottville-based Gateway To Success Academy, was the top fundraiser for the Manistee Polar Plunge, collecting $2,350 – 10 percent of the total raised. The G2S Wolfpack was the top fund-raiser for schools raising $3,146, while the top team overall was the Area 24 Double Trouble, with $2,350

Barb Heidel of Manistee is coach of the Area 24 Special Olympics team.

“The casino does a great job for us,” said Heidel. “They go all out, really make us feel welcome. This is my second plunge. Our athletes look forward to it, we have four with us here today who actually plunged, the others are at a basketball tournament.”


Representatives for the Special Olympics said all money raised helps provide free sports training, competition, health screenings and inclusive programs for more than 20,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities in Michigan: “Special Olympics Michigan Inc. (SOMI) provides year-round sports training and athletic competition for 27,745 participants (children and adults with intellectual disabilities as well as Unified Partners and students). Athletes build physical fitness, develop self-confidence and prepare for participation in society.”