Prep Beat

JIM PETERS: Special Olympics Polar Plunge is freezin' for a good reason

2014-01-23T17:00:00Z 2014-02-04T00:37:36Z JIM PETERS: Special Olympics Polar Plunge is freezin' for a good reasonJim Peters Times Columnist
January 23, 2014 5:00 pm  • 

With temperatures in single digits and wind chills below zero, simply being outside can be an unpleasant experience.

Now consider the idea of jumping into water.

Come Feb. 15, brave souls will leap into a pool near Valparaiso University's Athletics-Recreation Center as part of Special Olympics Indiana's Polar Plunge. Eleven other sites across the state will do the same during the month.

"You jump in and your body's instantly cold," Boone Grove senior Kirsten Spangenberg said. "But you're freezin' for a reason. That's all you think about. People all around the pool are cheering. You're cold, but it makes you feel really good that you did it."

Spangenberg, a member of the Indiana High School Athletic Association's Student Advisory Committee and the head of Boone's Student Athlete Advisory Club, and a friend took the frosty dip last year.

"We were lucky to have a really nice day," she said. "I had on a tank top and shorts, and I was fine. It's set up so you can get right out, get inside and get dressed."

By coincidence, Wheeler principal Don Gandy, who sits on the IHSAA's executive board, participated as well. He and Spangenberg have worked together on activities at games involving their schools, and thought the plunge would be a great hook to generate awareness as well as dollars for Special Olympics.

"Kirsten's a wonderful kid," Gandy said. "She's done a great job with Special Olympics. It's a worthy cause. It's good for the kids to see how they can help those who are a little disadvantaged."

To date, Gandy has recruited seven teachers to join him. They plan to wear superhero costumes.

"We've got a phenomenal group of young teachers," he said. "Two of them are fighting to be the Green Lantern."

At Boone, Spangenberg's contingent is largely students.

"Friends don't let friends plunge alone," she said.

They'll be joined by her dad, John, the Porter Township School Board president, and Boone Athletic Director Kerrie Schludecker.

"I asked how deep (the pool) was," Schludecker said. "Kirsten's amazing. She's such a role model. She's making a difference. I told her anything she comes up with, whatever she throws at me, I'm going to support her. I'll always have her back."

The plunge will actually be Spangenberg's third. She recently went to Antarctica with the People to People ambassador program and took a dive into Charlotte Bay. The temperature, by comparison to Northwest Indiana, was warm, right around 32 degrees.

"We're supposed to have another polar vortex," she said with a tinge of dread.

Young plungers must raise a minimum of $50, $75 for adults. Spangenberg hopes to raise $1,000 and is already halfway to her goal.

A variety of activities to benefit the plunge will be held Feb. 7, when Wheeler hosts Boone. There will be a game of knockout, costing $1, at halftime of the junior varsity game, when donation buckets will be passed around. At the varsity halftime, Special Olympians from both schools will join students in a Unified scrimmage that Union Township Middle School Special Education teacher Jim MacKenzie helped coordinate. Gandy hopes to line up a referee to make it more official. In addition to a 50-50, the schools will also have a contest to see who can sell the most rally towels. All special education students and families in attendance will be recognized.

"With the game being right before the Polar Plunge, it works out great," Spangenberg said. "Being able to partner with Wheeler makes it fun and easier to do."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at

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