Brave teachers and students leapt into frigid waters last Saturday to raise money for their peers – local Special Olympics athletes.
The annual Polar Plunge is a fundraising event hosted by the Knoxville Special Olympics, a chapter of the worldwide sports organization that provides competitions for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.
Kelly Metz, a special educator from Karns Elementary, has participated in the Polar Plunge fundraiser for the last four years.
“Karns Elementary has been doing the Polar Plunge longer than I’ve been a part of it, but I saw an opportunity when I first started at this school to be a part of the craziness and the fun,” Metz said. “It’s a really good time, and I just wanted to be a part of it.”
Schools and businesses created teams and competed against one another to raise the most money for the cause.
Individuals who raised at least $75 took the plunge, jumping with their team into the pool at the West Side YMCA. Metz and the Karns Elementary group dressed in costumes, as did many other teams in attendance.
The Knoxville chapter raised over $40,000, surpassing its goal by more than $5,000.
Special educator Kenny Johnston from Powell High School said the schools keep 50 percent of the funds for their special education programs. The Knoxville Special Olympics will receive 25 percent, and the remaining 25 percent will be sent to the Special Olympics of Tennessee.
Riley Clark is a Special Olympics athlete from Powell High and looks forward to participating in the games every year. She competes in bowling, bocce, and basketball.
“It makes me feel happy because I get to do stuff that normally not a whole lot of people get to do,” Clark said. “I have more fun when I get to do that.”
Metz said the Special Olympics is an exciting time for the students, and tear-jerking for the staff.
“We do a Hall of Champions at the school where the entire school lines the hallways and we play something that’s pumping them up,” she said. “The kids just cheer, they make signs, and they cheer them on as we’re all walking to the buses. It’s emotional and overwhelming. The kids are beaming and the adults are crying.”
The next Special Olympic Games will be held at Powell High School starting April 17 with track and field competitions.