Special Olympics hits the restart button on Polar Plunge. It's been dwindling for years
Tri-City Herald - 1/8/2018
Jan. 08--Mary Do knew it was time to hit the restart button with the Polar Plunge.
The annual event, usually held in Kennewick, used to bring in more than $100,000 to Special Olympics programs, said Do, vice president of development.
The money went toward sports programs here for special needs children, as well as putting on the annual Special Olympic Games in the Tri-Cities.
However, recent years have brought in fewer and fewer dollars, Do said. Last year's event raised less than $40,000.
With a new staffer and two Tri-City volunteers, this year's Jan. 20 event has been moved to Richland'sColumbia Point Park. The minimum donation has been set back to $50 from $60.
And in a big shakeup, the Kennewick Police Department has pulled back from logistically supporting the event.
"We're having to reinvent the event," Do said.
Several officials around the Tri-Cities and on the west side agreed that two things were needed to keep the Special Olympics going: time and people.
Donna Tracy, interim director for the Arc of Tri-Cities, said that she has enough work just organizing the Tri-City Warriors, the local Special Olympics team, and helping with event advertising.
A local organization playing a logistical role is new for the state Special Olympics committee, Tracy said. But the limited amount she is doing is all she can do.
The logistical support to put on multiple events a year takes at least one person dedicated to only Special Olympics, Tracy said.
That person used to be from the Kennewick Police Department, which until this year did much of the logistical support for Special Olympics in the region.
"They were the ones who really organized it at the local level," Tracy said. "And they've done phenomenal work for many years."
Kennewick police Cmdr. Scott Child said the department told Special Olympics last year that it could no longer offer logistical support.
"We didn't have somebody who could take it on," Child told the Herald.
Though Child said the department still would participate, Tracy said the absence of Kennewick police's help was immediately felt.
She said that she would love to have a part-time person dedicated just to Special Olympics.
"I don't have any more manpower," Tracy said. "I'm panicking."
On the backs of a few
Along with Kennewick police pulling back, Do said a longtime coordinator also left the organization.
Do said a new development manager, Molly Gwinn, was hired a few months ago and is still learning the job.
That meant much of the heavy lifting informally fell to two law enforcement officers -- Dan Irish of Hanford Patrol and Ray Aparicio of Pasco Police Department.
Irish and Aparicio have participated in the Law Enforcement Torch Run fundraiser in the past. They're organized it last year and are working toward building it up this year.
Irish also is doing the logistics for the Polar Plunge, making sure the hot tubs, speakers and Columbia Basin Dive Rescue staff are ready to go.
"It's a ton of work," Irish said. "Trust me."
Special Olympics and the Richland Police Department are helping, Irish said, but he and Aparicio still are laying all the groundwork.
Do said that she and Gwinn are reaching out to find someone to play host for the event. Do mentioned anchorwoman Tracci Dial of KNDU, who has played host and jumped before.
Part of the push isn't just to rejuvenate the Tri-City event. It's to prepare for others.
Washington plays host to the 2018 Special Olympic USA Games this July.
Do said that along with the refresh at the local level, there's a refresh at the state level. There are new committee members with "new energy," she said.
Tracy is excited. She's got permission to have a Special Olympics office within the Arc.
It might herald a return to how things used to be in the Tri-Cities, with top sports made more available to children with special needs. Even a baseball league.
All she needs is a way to pay for it.
"We of the community need to say, 'We want to make sports available to all individuals,' " Tracy said.
Jake Dorsey: 509-582-1405, @JakeD_TRI
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