Special Olympics coaches take the polar plunge

West Milford. COVID-19 precautions pushed the date of the fund raiser from February to April. Still, the water was just barely above freezing.

| 14 Apr 2021 | 09:24

A cold, wet day in West Milford didn’t keep the WM Special Olympics coaches from gathering at Mt. Glen Lakes to participate in Special Olympics New Jersey’s “virtual” 2021 Polar Bear Plunge.

Coaches Erin Branagan, Jaime Giordano, Nicole Lungaro, Melissa Teresco and Head Coach Kristi Clave were in attendance as brave plungers while other coaches, athletes, volunteers, families and supporters distanced themselves at the beach to cheer on their coaches. There were young athletes, traditional athletes (from elementary, middle, high school and alumni), volunteers and unified partners - each group of West Milford Special Olympics’ extensive program - were represented.

Under 40 degrees

Athletes counted down and then the coaches ran and plunged into the under 40-degree water with smiles on their faces. They splashed, screamed and laughter filled the experience from the water and the beach.

WMSO’s coaching staff consists of 15 coaches with varying professional roles - preschool teachers, elementary ABA and Multiple Disabilities teachers, high school teachers and therapists who all volunteer their time for these outstanding athletes.

“I don’t consider this volunteer work, these athletes enhance my life,” Clave said. “I look at this as a way to give back to the community that has helped shape the person I am and given me so much. It also helps that my daughter has the opportunity to be a unified partner in our young athlete program. She is learning, from an early age that differences make friendships more meaningful and that inclusion is a way of life - exactly what we’re hoping to accomplish across our district.”

Clave also expressed that they feel very fortunate to have an community and administration team that supports their team - Bill Kane (Maple Road School principal), Joe Trentacosta (Athletic Director), Dr. Elizabeth McQuaid (Director of Special Services), and Alex Anemone (Superintendant) often show up to practices and support all of the teams efforts on and off the playing fields.

State fund-raising goal: $1.2 million

In previous years, the WMSO coaches have participated in SONJ’s Polar Bear Plunge in Seaside in February where the teams have run into the winter waters of the ocean. With COVID safety precautions, this year the plunge was moved to a virtual event with an overarching goal of 1.2 million dollars to be raised across the state in efforts to get teams and events up and running again (currently $814,000 has been raised through this fund raiser).

Plunge teams throughout the state participated by dumping ice buckets on their heads, doing snow angles in swimsuits, running through sprinklers, getting out the balloons and super soakers and just getting creative.

WMSO coaches were thrilled to be given the opportunity to plunge here in town with the athletes they do this for. And thanks to the Mt. Glen Lakes Association for giving permission to use the lake for the day for this great event.


To find out more information, or to make a donation please email Coach Clave at westmilfordspecialolympics@gmail.com or check out their social media pages:

Facebook: West Milford Special Olympics

Instagram: @westmilfordspecialolympics

Twitter: @wmsohighlanders