Educators take plunge for programs that benefit local school districts

The super plungers ran in and out of the 40 degree water at Black Moshannon State Park three times for the YMCA Centre County Annual Polar Bear Plunge on Saturday, December 5, 2015.
The super plungers ran in and out of the 40 degree water at Black Moshannon State Park three times for the YMCA Centre County Annual Polar Bear Plunge on Saturday, December 5, 2015.

There was a rivalry between the Bald Eagle and Bellefonte area school districts leading up to the 13th annual Polar Bear Plunge on Saturday.

But when the countdown began, the four educators stood next to each other and together headed into water from the beach area of Black Moshannon State Park.

What district administration called a “friendly competition,” was a way to raise money for a program through the YMCA of Centre County that supports Centre and Clearfield county schools.

The district that raised the most got bragging rights.

And it also came with polar plunge participation from Bald Eagle Area Superintendent Jeff Miles, Howard Elementary School Principal Skip Pighetti, Bellefonte Area Superintendent Cheryl Potteiger and Bellefonte Elementary School Principal Karen Krisch.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought, though my feet are still freezing,” Potteiger said after attempting to warm up from the swim with a sweater and heavy boots.

Using a thermometer, Pighetti measured the water temperature at 40 degrees. When the event began at 11 a.m., the air was 29 degrees.

“It was actually refreshing,” Pighetti said.

Pighetti was originally designated to be the representative for Bald Eagle Area before Miles agreed last week to also do it.

Pighetti, 45, is a former Penn State wrestler who said he never lost the motivation to keep active. He said he goes on daily runs or hikes, and takes a swim in Bald Eagle Creek at least a couple times a month throughout the year.

He even ran three miles through Black Moshannon State Park before the Polar Bear Plunge.

“I always believed you need to set goals for yourself and my goal last year was to take a dip every month in Bald Eagle Creek and challenge myself and my body,” he said.

The coldest outdoor temperature he ever swam in was 10 degrees and had to break through ice to get into the creek.

But he wouldn’t recommend others do it unless they’re prepared.

There were several local fire and ambulance services and medical technicians on hand at the event for medical emergencies like hypothermia, YMCA branch executive Liz Toukonen said.

This was the first year the event was held at the Rush Township state park after being moved from Bald Eagle State Park in Howard Township due to a schedule conflict, Toukonen said.

“It was a change for us but one that’s working out well,” Toukonen said.

The Polar Bear Plunge is held each year leading up to winter as a fundraiser for the YMCA of Centre County. The goal was to raise $60,000 this year, Toukonen said.

That money will help benefit programs including the Backpack Food and Open Door programs.

The Open Door Program financially assists eligible families with YMCA memberships.

For Bald Eagle and Bellefonte area school districts, the motivation for educators to participate was the Backpack Food Program.

Toukonen said the program was started in 2014 in the Philipsburg-Osceola Area School District and provides students with food to eat during the weekend. This year, the Backpack Food Program expanded to Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Moshannon Valley, Penns Valley and West Branch area school districts.

“We’re stuffing over 600 backpacks with food to feed local youth,” Toukonen said. “We reached out to other districts this year because we know the need is there.”

Bellefonte Area raised about $1,300. Bald Eagle Area raised about $600.

“We did our best, and in the end it’s for a good cause and helps generate money for those programs,” Miles said. “We’ll probably look next year and see what we can do differently.”

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo