Catholic Student-Athletes Raise More than $24,000 for Special Olympics DC

Student-athletes jumped into the pool at Cardinal Stadium to support Special Olympics DC.  Courtesy of Jimmy Cassidy

By Jimmy Cassidy

Spirits were high while temperatures were low as student-athletes made their way out to Cardinal Stadium on Friday, February 2nd to participate in the 2018 Catholic University Polar Bear Plunge to support Special Olympics D.C. The proceeds from the student-athletes and their generous donors totaled $24,281.

Each team was encouraged to raise money as part of the event, and those who raised more than $50 became eligible to take the plunge into the aboveground pool outside the Raymond A. Dufour Athletic Center on the turf. The baseball, softball, and women’s lacrosse teams led the way this year as the top three donors.

The day began indoors on the basketball court as many student-athletes played games with the Special Olympians. The players then gathered to prepare for the 20 degree weather and listen to some words of encouragement from senior director of youth initiatives for Special Olympics D.C., Anthony Sokenu. Sokenu commended the teams’ contributions to helping children and adults with intellectual disabilities, and encouraged everyone to sign a pledge ending the use of the “R-word” before the student-athletes went outside.

“To have the Catholic students have a fun day like this where they get to jump in the water and raise money for the athletes they’ve done so much for, it really means the world to us at Special Olympics D.C.,” Sokenu said. “We love to host this on Catholic’s campus and have it be so well-attended each year.”

After the pep talk, the student-athletes lined up and huddled for warmth before jumping into the pool. Some went solo, others went as a pair, and the more daring even tried a cannonball, but everyone had smiles on their faces in support of a good cause. After about 45 minutes of plunging, the group carefully hustled back inside to get warm.

“It’s a great cause that us athletes can raise awareness for other athletes who want to be involved but might not have the same opportunities we have been afforded,” said sophomore baseball player Connor Sullivan. “It’s nice to give back to the Special Olympics athletes and work with them because we can learn so much from them that we usually take for granted.”

Junior lacrosse player Jess Lyons commented on the collective passion that all of Catholic Athletics shows for events like the plunge.

“The Polar Plunge is a great experience where everyone comes together to celebrate an awesome cause,” Lyons said. “The energy that everyone at Catholic brings to the table is unmatchable!”

Sokenu gave special thanks to the Catholic University of America Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) for organizing the event and getting teams to participate. SAAC, the student-run organization that serves as liaison between the university’s athletic department and its athletes, coordinates a number of community service related events each year. The organization established an official partnership with Special Olympics D.C. in 2015 to help run activities like the Polar Plunge at Catholic.

“Catholic’s SAAC program was one of the first programs to actually partner with Special Olympics, and since then they have been doing the Polar Plunge and running our entire Fall Festival to help out our athletes,” Sokenu said.

SAAC co-president Heston Priestley, a senior soccer player, explained that the efforts focused on outreach to each coach, team, and player and encouragement to any potential donors.

“Generating a team spirit was very important, and teams raised more when they did things together,” Priestley said. “I’m proud of our results!”

All of the contributions from the 2018 Polar Bear Plunge go directly to Special Olympics D.C., helping to provide sports and fitness programs year-round to those with intellectual disabilities. The organization invited a few local middle schools to enjoy the Dufour Center’s facilities and plunge earlier in the day on February 3rd. Another plunge is set to take place this Saturday, February 10th at Nationals Park, open to the public and featuring one special plunger, D.C. United defender Steven Birnbaum.

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