A Message from the President & CEO: 2022 Quarter 2

Teamwork makes the dream work.

Special Olympics Maryland athlete, Thomas Smith, is an amazing young man who lives by this mantra every day, which inspires me to live this way too. Thomas loves life and it’s clear that he does not allow his disabilities to define him. Whether he is working at Weis Markets, attending powerlifting practice, a CrossFit session, or volunteering at the Plunge; Thomas transforms lives.

There is no doubt that we have the greatest Plunge in the world. We have the iconic Chesapeake Bay Bridge in the backdrop, an incredible venue at Sandy Point State Park. With the support from the Maryland State Police as well as other law enforcement agencies, and your support, this event has evolved into a Maryland Tradition.  So, when reflecting on why  8,643 people would raise over $3.1m by plunging into the Chesapeake Bay, the answer is simple, it’s about the athletes. Without our athletes at the center of the “Plunge universe” we could never motivate such high energy and engagement during this week-long celebration for our core purpose… “Through sport, we are creating a world where opportunity is not limited by disability.”

After making the difficult decision to push the Plunge to March because of COVID-19, we are grateful for everyone’s support in coming out to plunge. While the number of plungers was down from our 2020 Plunge, the 26th annual Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge will be remembered as celebration of our athletes and the resilience of Marylanders to return to Bay for the in-person Plunge. We are grateful for good friends at the Department of Natural Resources, Maryland Park Services – Sandy Point State Park for their commitment to hosting the event. The weeklong celebration kicked off with the Super Plunge on March 18th and 19th(shout out to our Super Plunge Hall of Fame, Captain Donny Boyd, who is retiring as captain but will remain a super plunger in perpetuity). 52 super plungers plunged 24 times in 24 hours and raised a super plunge record $525,405 eclipsing the 2020 total of $369,400. Thank you, Super Plungers. To reinforce the transformative power of our athletes our Unified teams inspired by athletes plunging were successful in raising money and awareness. With extraordinary fundraising support from Janice Colbert, Randy Clemens captained The Bingo World Unified Super Plunge Team which included non-athletes teamed with SOMD athletes – Kirk Neal & Annu Singleton, Randy Clemens & Elaina Camacho, Maddie Clemens & Alexea Wentz, Jason Stull & Jimmy Tadlock, and Kimberly Hale & Adam Hays. Collectively the team raised $107,598. Teamwork truly makes the dream work.

Plunge week also included our telethon which aired on WBALTV-11, presented by MedStar, Good Samaritan, and Union Memorial, and hosted by Aerotek and Hearst. Baltimore Area Chick-fil-A locations provided a $55,000 challenge to match all donations. Marylanders tuned in and donated over $61,000 which thanks to the match translates into a total of over $115,000. 

We kicked off Plunge weekend with our 13th annual Cool Schools Plunge on Thursday, when 3,508 students made the trek to Sandy Point State Park to take the plunge. These future leaders demonstrated what it means to experience inclusion and be unified as they raised $414,425 all to support our athletes. 

Congratulations and thank you to the South River Snohawks, our top school team, and their captains, Jenn Clark and Chance Herndon, who took over for Mary Kokosko. These 177 students raised an impressive $48,295.

On Friday, March 25th, Governor Larry Hogan welcomed the 969 Plungers representing Law Enforcement, Military, Fire Fighters, and EMS. The group raised over $245,000. Governor Hogan demonstrated his commitment to our Special Olympics Maryland athletes when acknowledging their hard work as athletes, but more importantly he highlighted that our athletes add value every day to the lives of all Marylanders – as students, co-workers, and friends. His remarks underscored the value of building interactive inclusive communities of dignity and respect. When people interactively include our athletes and engage with them in a meaningful way, as the Governor does, their lives are forever transformed. Governor Hogan went on to express his gratitude to this dedicated group for their service and to Marylanders across the state and for their support of our athletes. 

The most emotional moment, for me personally, out of the entire Plunge week festivities was when Governor Hogan delivered a heartfelt message recognizing Desiree Holland as the 2022 recipient of the Jimmy Myrick Jr. Governor’s CourageAward. In honoring Desi, he referenced a lifetime of courage as defining who Desi is. The emotional presentation included the Governor sharing a warm embrace with Desi’s mom (Susan) and dad (Doug). Desi is the 6th recipient of this award, which was re-named in honor of Jimmy Myrick, Jr. by the Governor after Jimmy lost his battle with cancer in 2016. Jimmy’s mom Sharon was on hand to share in the emotional ceremony that also recognized the recent passing of Sharon’s husband, and Jimmy’s dad, Jim Myrick, Sr. Thank you Governor Hogan for your ongoing support of our athletes and your compassion for the Myrick family. 

The Corporate Plunge hosted by Bryan Nehman from WBAL 1090AM followed the Police Plunge. The Corporate Plunge attracted 74 teams and 969 plungers who collectively raised $431,858. This year Team Merritt captured the top team fundraising prize with a total of $56,034 beating out Team BGE/Constellation which finished second with a total of $52,992. Thanks to the business community and all the teams that plunged for our athletes.

We are fortunate to have devoted partners who contribute to providing an exceptional plunge experience. Our Baltimore Media partners WBALTV 11, 98Rock, and WBAL1090 AM helped us celebrate this Maryland tradition with on-air promotional opportunities leading up to the event, on-site coverage highlighting the people and the stories that make this a Maryland Tradition, as well as post plunge to continue to share about fundraising which is open until April 30th. Thank you to all members who went above in beyond to participate in the Plunge, Veteran Super Plunger, Jennifer Franciotti plunged 24 times in 24 hours. Justin, Scott and Spiegel hosted a comedy show, plunged virtually at the Great American Car Wash in Severna Park, and SOMD athlete, Candace Herget, led over 1,000 plungers into the frigid Chesapeake during 98Rock Plunge at 12:00.  

I am also proud of our first-year relationship with NBC4, Telemundo44 and NBC Sports Washington. Thanks to this partnership we reached more Marylanders in the markets served by these stations. Annu Singleton, David Godoy, and Justin Hunsinger were featured in news stories that successfully highlighted the transformative power of our athletes and our mission. 

When Plunge day arrived, our founding partner Aerotek, once again demonstrated their passionate support for this event and our athletes by recruiting volunteers to register over 3200 plungers as they entered the Park. Thank you, Wawa, for handing out over 5,000 cups of coffee and hot chocolate. We’re grateful for long-time Plunge partner Ram’s Head for their continued efforts to host the Ram’s Head Ice Lodge with entertainment all day.

By virtue of moving the Plunge to March, the date happened to coincide with our State Basketball Tournament on that Saturday and Sunday at the University of Maryland where our teams competed on Gary Williams Court in the Xfinity Center. Sunday’s competition included our 3v3 tournament and Individuals Skills competition where athletes competed in the speed dribble, spot shot, and wall pass. The Plunge catch phrase for our athletes is “You Plunge, I Play”, and for everyone who plunged, our competition on Saturday and Sunday exemplified why you plunged, as athletes of all ability levels had the chance to play the sport they love. Special thanks to UMD Director of Athletics Damon Evans and University of Maryland Department of Athletics for allowing us to compete at the Xfinity Center.

Given the range of support in putting on this event, I want to reinforce my gratitude to the law enforcement community, thank you one and all. The Law Enforcement Torch Run to benefit Special Olympics Maryland works as an organizing force that mobilizes support from all law enforcement agencies across the state throughout the year for fundraising, awareness building and support at competitions. While the event is known as the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge, state superintendent, Colonel Jones would be the first to reinforce that it is a full-on team effort of law enforcement agencies from across the state that combine to deliver the world’s largest and most fun Plunge. I am grateful for the exceptional support of all law enforcement. They are guardians of our communities across the state and of the Flame of Hope that symbolizes the opportunity for personal growth through sport offered by Special Olympics Maryland sport programs. We also benefit from other agencies like the Anne Arundel Fire Department and the Johns Hopkins Medicine Department of Emergency Medicine. The collective effort from so many makes me proud to be a Marylander.

Finally, to everyone who plunged, supported a plunger, volunteered, donated to the Medstar telethon, or participated in any way, this is a message of thanks to you. I am inspired every day by athletes like Thomas Smith, their families, the law enforcement community, and all the supporters that are helping create interactive inclusive communities of dignity and respect. 

As you can see, teamwork makes the dream work. Thank you to everyone who was a part of our 2022 Plunge team this year, we couldn’t have asked for a better return to the park. Through sport, together we are creating a world where opportunity is not limited by disability.

Plunge on and experience inclusion!