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Police departments to take Polar Plunge for Special Olympics

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published January 20, 2020

 Participants jump into the freezing water at a previous Polar Plunge. The Shelby Township and Utica Police Departments will be plunging into Lake St. Clair to support the Special Olympics Feb. 22.

Participants jump into the freezing water at a previous Polar Plunge. The Shelby Township and Utica Police Departments will be plunging into Lake St. Clair to support the Special Olympics Feb. 22.

Photo provided by Ted Grossnickle

SHELBY TOWNSHIP / UTICA — Would you jump into freezing water to raise money for charity? Well, the Shelby Township and Utica police departments are doing that exact thing to raise money for the Special Olympics.

That’s right — they are jumping into the freezing waters of Lake St. Clair to help people with intellectual disabilities participate in sports programs, receive health care services and spread messages of inclusion. All of these programs are 100% free to the participants.

The annual event, called the Polar Plunge, will be held at MacRay Harbor in Harrison Township at 2 p.m. Feb. 22.

In order to participate, each participant is required to raise a minimum of $75.

“We have different incentive levels for those who raise higher levels. We do award snow globe trophies for the individual and the teams who raise the most money,” Ted Grossnickle, of Special Olympics Michigan, said in an email.

The two departments are competing to raise the most for the charity.

The Polar Plunges in Michigan are hosted by the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Michigan. The Law Enforcement Torch Run is a network of volunteers who represent law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

“The Polar Plunge engages teams and individuals that represent different law enforcement agencies, schools, community/civic organizations, local businesses, etc. that are interested in supporting Special Olympics at a unique and fun event,” said Grossnickle.

The Macomb Polar Plunge is organized by a committee of volunteers, including LETR members representing the Macomb Correctional Facility, representatives from the Macomb Intermediate School District, MacRay Harbor representatives and local Special Olympics volunteers.

There will be a plunge kickoff party the night before the plunge that will be open to the public. It will include a Plunge Pre-Party from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Feb. 21 with a minimum $5 donation at the door. The band Priceless will be performing, and there will be drink specials, raffles and promotions going on throughout the night.

“At the event, our plungers have a pre-Plunge party where they can meet the athletes (people with intellectual disabilities) that participate in Special Olympics in the local community. Then the plungers get into their crazy costumes where they plunge into the cold water before a crowd of their supporters, community members, and our Special Olympics athletes all cheering them on. After the Plunge, we host an ‘After-Splash Bash’ that is open to the community and a time for the plungers to celebrate the contributions they have made,” said Grossnickle.

To ensure the plungers’ safety, firefighters and volunteers monitor the jump site.

The Utica Police Department has a few officers who will be taking the plunge.

“We currently have three police officers (Vince Ranelli, Jack Currie, Barry Andrade) and two dispatchers (Tiffany Pecorilli, Shelby Ray) who will be participating,” Ranelli said in an email.

According to Utica police, even the chief will be jumping into the freezing cold water, in uniform, if their donations beat the Shelby Township Police Department’s donations.

Ranelli said the competition makes the fundraising fun.

“Shelby PD is an awesome department who we work very close with and have a great relationship with. I think it is fun to have competition, because it will most likely bring more donations in to help out the Special Olympics,” he said.

He said that jumping in the water to raise money will be something to remember.

“I think it is definitely going to be a fun and memorable occasion. It will be something that the group of us always remembers, and the fact that we are doing it so that it can ultimately help out others is great. We are police officers/dispatchers, and we chose this line of work to help others. This is a great event to show that this is who we are,” said Ranelli.

He said Currie found the event online through the Shelby Township Police Department and brought it up to him.

“We both like a good competition and supporting a great cause, so it was no question that we were in. We brought the event and idea to Chief (Sean) Coady, who of course had no problem with us participating to help out the charity,” he said.

Leslie Heisler, the Shelby Township Police Department’s community services officer, said she will be one of the officers doing the plunge, and although it’s an absolutely crazy idea, she said she is doing it because it is helping raise funds for a charity.

“There were eight on the team until today when we conned Sgt. (David) Jacquemain into joining us. We are working on a couple more officers, but we know for sure there are nine,” she said in an email.

“If it helps Special Olympics raise the funds they need so that these athletes can continue to compete and receive the support they need, we are all in,” she said.

She said that at first their goal was only $1,000, but they beat that in no time thanks to the local community.

“We set a $1,000 goal initially and surpassed it in the first 12 hours, so now we will just keep upping the ante until the event. There is a certain amount of competition among the teams that are participating to be the highest fundraising team in the area. … We think that competition is great because it just serves to bring more money in for Special Olympics,” she said.

The department is getting creative for the day of the jump with its own special “uniform of the day” that participants will wear during the plunge.

Brandon Dowty, a police sergeant, said he is happy to be taking part in this effort.

“Raising money for such a great cause is really a no-brainer. It’s a unique way for raising money and I’m happy to contribute,” he said in an email.

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