MONROE, CT — It was a clear, sunny day with temperatures in the 50’s, but the water in Great Hollow Lake was around 45 degrees when close to 80 people took the plunge Saturday afternoon. Those braving the cold water raised over $42,000 for Special Olympics Connecticut and its athletes.
Police Sgt. Pete Howard, who started the Plunge at the Park 12 years ago, participated in both waves Saturday. The first group to run into the lake following a countdown included police officers, athletes and families.
Then the rest of the participants rushed into the water moments later.
“It was a little cold,” Howard said, while draped in a beach towel. “The second time was painful.”
The 12th annual Plunge at the Park is the last one Howard organized. He is retiring this spring after 27 years in law enforcement.
Two years ago, Howard wore a helmet and harness, while rappelling down all 34 stories of the Mohegan Sun building in Uncasville for the Over the Edge fundraiser for Special Olympics Connecticut.
Monroe police officers are among the top departments in raising money for Special Olympics Connecticut. They participate in the Torch Run and have other fundraising events such as Tip-A-Cop and a Cop-on-Top.
On Saturday, visitors to the Great Hollow Lake pavilion enjoyed a spread of hotdogs, pizza and MacDaddy’s gourmet macaroni and cheese. Before the big event, the crowd was treated to a K-9 demonstration and some participated in an egg toss on the beach.
Police Officer Michael DeCarli led department K-9 Riggs, a German shepherd, through a series of tasks. The dog used its sensitive nose to find evidence and attacked Officer Michael Panza, who wore a protective bite suit while playing the role of a bad guy.
Plungers were made up of individuals and teams. Team Shark Bait members wore costumes showing off their creativity.
Members of the Masuk football team participated as Team James, in honor of their teammate, James Dutkowsky, who has Down syndrome.
James was appointed captain of Team James and everyone wore white T-shirts that said “Panther Football” with a football on the front and “Team James” on the back, along with his jersey number, 61.
They raised over $3,700 for Special Olympics Connecticut.
James Dutkowsky’s parents and two brothers also came out to support him. His mother, Lisa Dutkowsky, said the football players have participated in the Plunge for her son going back to 2016.
“The cause is near and dear to our hearts and for the team, which has always rallied around James,” Dutkowsky said. “We got a good response early on from the team.”
Matt Scholz, a junior on the Panthers, said, “James means a lot of us. He goes to every practice we have. He’s a good kid. Being here shows our appreciation for him and how much we care about him — and we will do anything for him.”