Philomath's plungers react to the river's cold water. (Photo by Edward Wienhoff for Philomath News)

CORVALLIS — While most teenagers sleep in on chilly Saturday mornings, a group of 27 Philomath High School students and advisers woke up early Feb. 18 to support the Special Olympics.

The local contingent headed to the Crystal Lake boat ramp on the Willamette River to take part in the 13th annual Special Olympics Oregon Polar Plunge. Besides Corvallis, the fundraising plunges also take place in Eugene, Salem, Bend, Portland and Medford on various dates in February and March.

The PHS team was one of the top fundraisers at the Corvallis event — something that has become a tradition. The Warriors raised more than $4,400 this year and the money goes right back to Philomath. Organizers said 100% of the money raised supports Philomath Unified, a basketball team for special education students. 

Overall, the 2023 Corvallis Polar Plunge raised more than $60,000 for Special Olympics.

“We had over 600 people register this year,” said Jessica Carpenter, who with her daughter Vanessa Carpenter serves as co-manager of the Corvallis and Salem plunges.

Corvallis Police Capt. Joel Goodwin, a longtime Polar Plunge participant, was especially proud of the fundraising effort. He pointed out that this year, Corvallis raised $15,000 more than the larger, neighboring town of Eugene, which brought in $45,000. 

Goodwin commended all who raised funds for the event.

“The success of the Corvallis plunge is because of you — the hard work you put in and your willingness to come out here and do a little freezin’ for a reason.”

The Philomath High team runs into the Willamette River during Saturday morning’s Polar Plunge. (Video by Edward Wienhoff for Philomath News)

Britt Oase, Special Olympics Oregon chief executive officer, made the trip down from Portland to attend. She thanked Goodwin along with other law enforcement, emergency medical services personnel and firefighters for their assistance in keeping participants safe. Oase made special mention of all the students who took part, including those from Philomath, Corvallis, Albany and Oregon State University. 

While the Willamette River was running cold on Saturday morning, PHS students seemed to be warmed up by knowing their efforts went for Unified basketball.

“It took my breath away,” PHS senior Abigail Brown said. “But I am grateful for my school having such an amazing program for the special education students.”

PHS senior Brooke Moade agreed.

“The water was so cold, but walking in alongside my friends gave me courage,” she said. 

Philomath’s team braves the cold waters of the Willamette to raise money for a good cause. (Photo by Ed Wienhoff for Philomath News)

Sophomore Raegan McKinney encourages students and the public to attend Unified basketball games.

“They have a lot of great scorers and the games are fun to watch,” she said. 

Isaac Workman took part in the plunge but this won’t be the last time the Philomath senior does his part to support Special Olympics. Workman plans to make a career as a special education teacher.

Said Workman, “I have been preparing my entire life to take the Polar Plunge!” 

As this year’s event wrapped up and the registration tables were being put away, Vanessa Carpenter commented that plans are already underway for the 2024 Corvallis Polar Plunge.

“The plunge is a memorable way for you to step out of your comfort zone and impact the lives of Oregon’s more than 5,000 Special Olympics athletes,” she said, also encouraging folks to follow the Polar Plunge Corvallis page on Facebook, which includes photos from Saturday’s fun as well as postings on upcoming events.

The PHS Polar Plunge participants gather for a group photo on Saturday morning. (Photo by Ed Wienhoff for Philomath News)

Edward Wienhoff is the founder and former publisher/editor of the Monroe County (Illinois) Independent who recently relocated to Oregon. He has more than 20 years of experience in the publishing industry.