By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
Organizers of the annual Polar Plunge for Catholic Education are calling this year’s event one for the record books.
“This is the biggest year yet for the Polar Plunge,” event chairman Jim Shaw said enthusiastically as some 500 in the water and hundreds on the beach concluded a triumphal march up the sandy shoreline after taking an icy dip in the Atlantic Ocean.
Photo Gallery: 2019 Polar Plunge for Catholic Education
The event, which unfolded under sunny skies in the waters off the Sea Bright Municipal Beach Jan. 27, raised some $206,000. The monies are earmarked for a host of projects by the 22 participating Catholic schools around New Jersey.
“We are so happy this money will go toward improvements to Catholic schools throughout the state,” Shaw, a member of St. Mary Parish, Middletown, said in explaining that the total is “at least $50,000 to $60,000 better than the best year ever up to now. … This is just great!”
In keeping with tradition, the 2019 Polar Plunge coincided with the start of National Catholic Schools Week.
This was the fourth year mother and daughter Anne and Fiona Olsen of Howell’s St. Veronica School took part in the event.
“The kids enjoy it,” said Anne Olsen, a PTA member. “It’s great to have the community and other schools have a chance to come together. … It really brings out community spirit.”
Fiona Olsen said it gives family and friends a chance to participate in Catholic education. “They are helping us get a new gym floor,” the sixth-grader said.
There was only one bad part, she noted: “My feet were freezing in just five seconds!”
Since its inception in 2007, the Polar Plunge has raised about $1.2 million, with 100 percent of the money retained by participating Catholic schools. The funds are used for scholarships, financial aid, endowments and facility projects according to the needs determined by the individual schools.
Shaw helped found the fundraiser, sponsored by the Ancient Order of Hibernians' Patrick Torphy Division 13, years ago and has seen it grow steadily over the years, thanks to school participation and that of their PTA groups. Now, schools from around the four counties of the Trenton Diocese, the neighboring Metuchen Diocese and north Jersey schools such as Hudson Catholic take part.
At a reception after the plunge held at Tommy’s Tap House, where checks were distributed, Craig Palmer, Middletown’s St. Mary School principal, shared how the event has helped that institution acquire resources such as Wi-Fi and climate control units throughout the building that would otherwise have exceeded the school budget.
This year, St. Mary’s fundraising effort focused on funding an “Information Commons” featuring a library, media center and computer lab that Palmer, Shaw and others, including Gerry McGahran, said would bring the school into a new age of technology and communication.
McGahran, whose daughter Brighid is a sixth-grader at the school and a veteran plunger, spearheaded the successful $50,000 campaign to achieve that goal. He shared how the school united around the project with activities that included a series of friendly competitions “within the grades in the school, the families and the teachers.”
In Red Bank’s St. James School, the PTA and the dad’s club known as The Royals work hard to raise funds for general upgrades as well as the plunge. Over the years, funds from the Polar Plunge have enabled the school to install air conditioning and a new gym security system, among other improvements.
“Everyone has a lot of fun,” Tania Sarabic, PTA co-president, said of her son and the 50 students, family members and friends who took the plunge.
Travis Sutphin, whose second-grade son, Connor Patrick, has taken the plunge every year since pre-school, agreed. Sutphin, a member of the Royals, said helping to raise funds is a good way to give back to the school, which has done so much for the children. “The teachers are phenomenal; the administration is phenomenal,” he said.
Meanwhile, Edison's Bishop Ahr High School decided to "really make the most of it this year," assistant principal Harry Ziegler said. Ziegler said the 50 students, faculty and staff who jumped in the waters were elated by the $90,000 raised, which will go toward creating a state-of-the-art STEM program.