By MATTHEW UMSTEAD
5:55 PM EST, January 1, 2012
A crowd of at least 3,000 turned out Sunday for the Polar Bear Plunge in the Potomac River in Williamsport, officials estimated.
The colorful New Year’s Day tradition, which has been a fundraiser for the Humane Society of Washington County for nine years, attracted possibly the largest turnout ever, said humane society spokesperson Katherine Cooker.
“I’ve never seen a crowd like this, ever,” said Cooker after a cheering throng of more than 360 “polar bears” took a quick dip in the chilly water before making haste back to the north bank of the Potomac.
A few tarried a bit longer than most and frolicked a bit in the water, splashing each other. Organizers said all returned to dry land without injury.
It took seven minutes for all of the participants to get into the water, Cooker said.
The fundraiser grossed about $18,000, Cooker said. Pat Miller, the wife of Humane Society Executive Director Paul Miller, was recognized for obtaining the most pledges — more than $6,000, Cooker said. Awards also were presented to the oldest polar bear and the one wearing the best costume.
Will Buzzerd of Hagerstown and Kevin Walters of Williamsport dressed up as 1980s World Wrestling Entertainment stars Rowdy Roddy Piper and The Grand Wizard.
“We put a UPS team in here to help raise funds and (it was) a reason for us to act like silly fools and not 41-year-old men that we really are,” said Walters with a smile.
Buzzerd said the group from UPS operations in Frederick, Md., hopes to take the plunge again in the years ahead, and dress up with a different theme each time.
Jumping in the water was on Inwood, W.Va., resident Josh Leonard’s “bucket list.”
“It wasn’t too bad other than ... the (feeling of) pins in your feet,” he said after getting out of the water.
His brother Matt, who joined him for their first Plunge, said they mainly just wanted to jump in the water after deciding to do it over the weekend, but were glad to help out a charity as well.
“The wind (was) worse than the water was,” Matt Leonard said.
Wearing a size 18 women’s one-piece swimsuit he purchased at Gabriel Bros., Shawn Quinn of Waynesboro, Pa., said he was dressed as a Baltimore Ravens cheerleader to pay off a wager on a Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game.
Images of a dog and a cat were drawn on a shaved area of Tim Yates’ stomach. The Sharpsburg man said he loves the event.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time. ... It’s an awesome way to bring in the new year,” Yates said.
Dressed in a black-and-red spandex ninja Morphsuit, Rajon Imes of Hagerstown said he wanted to start off the new year with “something fresh, something new.”
This year’s plunge was the seventh for Barbara Warrenfeltz of Halfway, who brought her 9-year-old granddaughter, Kelsie, for the first time.
“If the wind wasn’t blowing, perfect,” said Warrenfeltz when asked how the weather compared with previous years.
“I don’t know if I’ll go all the way under (the water) this year or not,” Warrenfeltz said.
Austin Shank and Curt Blickenstaff of Hedgesville, W.Va., said they were participating just for the fun of it.
Cooker credited donations from multiple businesses, and support of auxiliary police and EMS personnel for making the event a success.
Bill Dennis, who led a crew of Hagerstown Auxiliary Police in directing traffic, said parking areas were filled, and that people parked in downtown Williamsport and walked to River Bottom Park for the event. Multiple motorcycle groups rode more than 200 bikes to the event, Dennis said.
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