State police prepared for bay polar plunge to help Special Olympics

Commanding officer of Westminster barracks to dive in for donations

January 22, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

State police Capt. Scott Yinger is hoping local residents are willing to pay to see him take a dive - one that will benefit charity.

On Saturday, the commander of the Westminster state police barracks will barrel into the 40-degree waters of the Chesapeake Bay. In return, he's asking for donations to the Special Olympics.

"It may be cold on the outside, but it's a warm feeling inside to know what you're doing is for a good cause," said Yinger, who will be participating in his third arctic adventure during the eighth annual Polar Bear Plunge at Sandy Point State Park near Annapolis.

Yinger said he's willing to do it if it means more money for the Special Olympics, which raised $442,000 last year with the help of 2,200 participants.

Tom Schniedwind, senior vice president for sports marketing for the Maryland division of the organization, said the goal is to raise $500,000 and to get at least 3,000 people to take a dip. In 1997, the first plunge raised about $30,000 from 200 to 300 participants. Schniedwind estimated that 25 percent of the cold-weather warriors are law enforcement or fire personnel. Five minutes is the limit in the water, he said.

For the second year in a row, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is expected to take the plunge. The event prohibits wetsuits but encourages creative costumes.

The Polar Bear Plunge is the second of three winter fund-raisers sponsored by the state police based on water challenges. The St. Mary's Splash was held in December, and the Deep Creek Dunk is scheduled for next month.

Maj. Greg Shipley, state police spokesman, is a co-founder of the winter events, which he said started 20 years ago when troopers were trying to find a way to help the Special Olympics.

"It's something that fit with the reputation of the state police," Shipley said. "We handle the tough assignments."

On Saturday, Schneidwind and Shipley will go in the water 20 times from 3 a.m. to 2 p.m. with a Special Olympics athlete to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the winter events.

"It is a challenge, but that's what life is," Shipley said. "And it's a very small challenge when you look at the challenges folks who are a part of Special Olympics go through every day."

About 10,000 athletes participate in Special Olympics programs every year.

Donations are not based on the number of times or the length of time someone is in the water. They can be taken at the Westminster barracks through Saturday, Yinger said.

Schniedwind said he thinks Yinger's willingness to become the human equivalent of a Popsicle sets an example for younger officers.

"Scott is incredibly well respected in the ranks by young guys and veterans," he said. "His involvement in Special Olympics sends a clarion signal to young troopers, not only about esprit de corps, but also about giving back to the community."

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