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Freezin' for a reason

New Year's Day event raises money for Humane Society

New Year's Day event raises money for Humane Society

January 02, 2007|by MARLO BARNHART

WILLIAMSPORT - The air temperature might have been a little milder than expected for the first day of January, but when 98.6 degrees (people) hit 40 degrees (water), it was quite a shock.

Nonetheless, dozens of men, women, children, comic book characters and superheroes participated Monday in the Williamsport Polar Bear Potomac River Plunge 2007.

The event began at noon, and was over about 20 seconds later.

Started more than 15 years ago by Todd Bowman and some of his friends, the polar bear event has, for the past four years, also been a fundraiser for the Humane Society of Washington County.

"When the water is about 40 degrees, it actually feels colder ... more of a shock going in," said Paul Miller, executive director of the humane society.

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Miller, who has taken the plunge every year the humane society has been involved, said between $4,000 and $5,000 is raised through pledges.

This year, the money raised will be used to assist with the Sharpsburg Horse Rescue and Medical Fund, Miller said.

In recent weeks, humane society employees and volunteers have started treatment for many of the 75 horses that were removed from a Sharpsburg farm, where they were found in various stages of neglect.

Veteran plunger Jay Frantz was back again this year. With him were grandsons Tyler Walling, 11, and twins Brandon and Dylan Baker, both 14, and all fledgling polar bears.

"We're all good swimmers, so we decided to do it," Dylan said.

Frantz, who has participated for eight years, said he recalls one time when a chain saw was used to cut a hole in the ice.

Scott Robertson of Falling Waters, W.Va., said he also recalls the year with the ice - it was 2001, which was the first year he participated in the plunge.

"I just enjoy it," Robertson said when asked why he does it every year.

Skylar Rice might be only 8 years old, but she knows a challenge when she sees one.

"My parents suggested it and I said OK," Skylar said. "They brought the towels."

Andy Hartman was at River Bottom Park with a group from Evangel Baptist Church in Hagerstown.

"It's traditional," Hartman said after buying a T-shirt commemorating the event.

The maroon shirts said "Be Freezin' for a Reason."

Dale Boward of Hagerstown said he and his family come almost every year just for the spectacle.

"I've thought about it, but that's as far as I go," Boward said.

Mark Whetzel said he was there on a bet.

"A buddy needed five others to do it," Whetzel said.

The 29-year-old military policeman with the U.S. Army said he was happy to be there Monday.

"You've gotta do something crazy once a year," Whetzel said.

Rick Viands of Williamsport said he always had wanted to take part in the plunge, and he did Monday.

Mark Logsdon and his son, Jasen Logsdon, both of Maugansville, are veteran plungers.

"It's very enjoyable," Mark Logsdon said.

Before they went in, Derek Ditch of Zullinger, Pa., and his two children were all smiles. After their brief encounter with the chilly Potomac, Casey, 9, and Darien, 12, were most interested in getting wrapped up in waiting towels.

"Both kids went all the way under," Derek Ditch said proudly as he, too, headed for the towels.

Mark Farester, director of the Williamsport Harley Owners, led a group of 25 bikers down to the river's edge, not to plunge, but to watch and donate to the cause.

"It's part of our New Year's Day routine - we come here and then ride on to Greencastle, Pa., for lunch," Farester said.

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