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February 03. 2013 8:13PM

Volunteers take the plunge in Hampton for annual Special Olympics fundraiser


Bundled-up bystanders cheer on 644 of their friends and family who participated in the 14th annual Penguin Plunge. 8 

HAMPTON BEACH - In its first year participating in the Penguin Plunge for Special Olympics New Hampshire, the Raymond School District not only raised $10,000 but was given an award for making an exceptional contribution to the event through its members' spirit, loyalty and fundraising.

The Raymond School District team was one of 81 "flocks" to participate in the 14th annual Penguin Plunge at Hampton Beach on Sunday.

A total of 644 plungers braved the icy waters and helped raise about $493,475 for the organization.

Combined with Saturday's high school plunge, the weekend event raised over $665,975 for Special Olympics New Hampshire and local teams throughout the state.

Mary Ellen Pantazis, special education coordinator for the Raymond School District, said they put together a team of 17 "penguins" to help raise funds to start a Special Olympics team in town.

So far, six people have signed up and are eager to start training for track and field events ahead of this summer's Special Olympics and bowling in the fall.

"The Raymond School District really embraced the opportunity to participate in the Penguin Plunge and they just garnered so much enthusiasm and did garner a great sum of money in their first year," Mary Conroy, president of Special Olympics New Hampshire, said.

Conroy said there are more than 39,000 people with intellectual disabilities in New Hampshire and Special Olympics New Hampshire has a penetration of about 7.4 percent into that population.

"We know there are a lot of people who, if given opportunities, would participate in sports organizations," Conroy said. "That they (the Raymond School District) took part in the Penguin Plunge to start their program is exciting."

Ashley Lawson, development director for SONH, said the weather was perfect for a plunge Sunday, with a light dusting of snow fresh on the beach.

"There are no bragging rights if it is 50 degrees," Lawson said.

Plungers are always encouraged to dress in costume and this year's theme of "Going to the Chapel" led to entire wedding parties diving into the waters.

Christine Brown of Nashua wore her own wedding dress with a furry, white hat, and went in the water up to her knees.

"I might as well put it to good use," she said about the dress.

Hundreds of plungers and supporters gathered at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom after the plunge to warm up, eat and drink, and celebrate their success with live music and awards.

Many of those gathered were athletes and volunteers who participate in various sports throughout the year through the Special Olympics.

"I think in the 14 years of the Penguin Plunge, Special Olympics has had the opportunity to change the quality of the experience that we can provide for the athletes that we serve," Conroy said. "Fifteen years ago our athletes might not have had the opportunity to participate in Alpine racing jackets, or in volleyball uniforms that are specific to volleyball. This has really allowed our athletes to have experiences like every athlete wants and deserves."

gmacalaster@newstote.com


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