Just chillin’ in the lake at Polar Plunge in Bazetta

BAZETTA — When Christopher Rotundo agreed to his daughter’s request to participate in the 12th annual Polar Plunge at Mosquito Lake, he did not plan on wearing a pink dress and wings.

However, on Saturday, the Kent resident could not back out of a promise to Rowan Rotundo, so his first — and likely last — Polar Plunge had him pretty in pink with his daughter and her friend.

“I just thought it would be fun,” Rowan Rotundo said with a laugh.

Christopher shrugged, “It is for a good cause.”

Warren police Sgt. Geoff Fusco and about 30 Warren G. Harding High School staff and supporters volunteered to run into just below freezing waters of Mosquito Lake.

“This is our third year doing this,” Fusco said. “This gets people together and it is for something positive that helps those needing assistance, not only in this community but across the state.”

The annual polar plunge at Mosquito Lake is the first of eight in Ohio and raises money for Special Olympics athletes.

“It is very important that we have a good start,” Kate Burdett, director of marketing for Special Olympics Ohio. “Last year, Mosquito Lake’s Polar Plunge raised about $13,000. We raised about $16,000 this year.”

About 110 people ran into a small carved-out area in Mosquito Lake on Saturday. The ice on top of the lake was about 15 inches thick. Even with the top layer cut through, a lower layer of ice was just underneath, so organizers repeatedly warned the plungers not to dive into the water, because it was little more than waist deep.

However, thanks to temperatures rising to the lower 40s Saturday, the plunge was not as frigid as it would have been just a week earlier when temperatures were as low as 5 degrees.

Next weekend, Special Olympics will be sponsoring a Polar Plunge in Sandusky.

The Polar Plunge season is through March. Special Olympics averages between $300,000 and $400,000 in pledges from Polar Plunge donations.

“We’re hoping to raise $500,000 by the time the Polar Plunge season is completed,” Burdett said.

The combined Polar Plunges held in Ohio are the largest fundraising tool for Ohio Special Olympics.

Money raised through the Polar Plunge programs provide assistance for approximately 26,000 Special Olympics athletes in Ohio throughout the year, which includes about 1,500 Special Olympic athletes in northeast Ohio.

Minnie Wolfe, 86, of Weathersfield, has been participating in the majority of Trumbull County’s Polar Plunges. Because of her long participation, she was allowed to take the first plunge of the day.

“My former boss had a special-needs child and I have friends with special-needs family members, so this is important to me,” Wolfe said.

In Trumbull County, the Bazetta and Brookfield police and fire departments, as well as area schools, have been supporting the program.

Paul “Buckeye Santa” Gustovich has been participating in Mosquito Lake’s Polar Plunge since the first one.

“There were only about 48 people that went in the first year,” Gustovich said. “So this is an improvement. Although I would like to see even more people go in and more people come out, so more money can be raised.”

“This is such an important cause,” he said.

Cindy Poplyk was a first-time Polar Plunge participant.

“My daughter died three years ago,” Poplyk said. “I’m doing this to honor her memory.”

Pam Boyd of Howland and Liz Collins of Champion also participated in the Polar Plunge. They decided to take the plunge to honor the memory of a friend, Mark C. Canfield, who died last March.