NEW BUFFALO — “For the Children!”
That was the battle cry of Berrien County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Michael Troup as he leapt into the truly frigid waters of New Buffalo’s harbor on Saturday, Feb. 20.
He had plenty of company as members of three Polar Plunge teams launched themselves into an area of open water cut out of the ice by local firefighters and members of the Berrien County Dive Team (they also served as lifeguards, although no one had to be rescued – or even stayed in the liquid deep freeze for very long).
Most Polar Plungers jumped in barefoot. Many were wearing shorts, although Nick Peters of the New Buffalo Township Fire Department “Fire and Ice” team was dressed as a Christmas present and teammate Dan Mandalis left both of his socks in the water.
Fire Department Cadet Andrew Flick participated in his first Polar Plunge.
“It wasn’t so bad until you started to move around, and then you really couldn’t grip anything – it was pretty cold – really cold,” he said.
Mandalis said he was happy the sun was shining and the snow had stopped.
“Hopefully it’s the mark of spring.”
Also helping to raise money for the Michigan Special Olympics were teams representing the Sheriff’s Department and the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office “Cold Case Division” (members of that squad wore matching “Top Gun” uniforms).
“We do this every year now, and we’re really super-proud we’re still able to do it even under these conditions so we can raise money for a great cause,” said Prosecutor’s Office Polar Plunger Steve Pierangeli.
Berrien County Undersheriff Chuck Heit said between the three teams more than $10,000 will be raised through donations (which can still be made through the end of February via the Special Olympics Michigan website in the Polar Plunge section).
The 2021 Polar Plunge took place at Pleasure Isle Marina, a facility recently acquired by New Buffalo Township. Newly-hired harbor manager for the marina (and recently retired Berrien County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant) Julie Flick said “because we couldn’t do a full-size Polar Plunge this year we decided to do a smaller one here in New Buffalo.”
“I’m real excited to be able to host this,” she added.
Every Polar Plunge participant made a bee-line for warm environs of the Pleasure Isle Marina club house after exiting the harbor.
Berrien County Dive Team member Sabrina Laratta was in the water for the entire Polar Plunge keeping a watchful eye on those not wearing a wetsuit while recording their startled reactions once they re-emerged.
“The suits help keep us warm, but the gloves are cold,” she noted.
The Berrien County Polar Plunge took place at Watermark Brewing Co. in Stevensville the last two years, with the public gathered around a pool set up in the middle of the street to watch the event up-close. Before that it was held at Planks in Benton Harbor.
But the coronavirus pandemic forced a more virtual Polar Plunge for 2021, with divers, organizers and an airborne drone capturing the action for presentation on the Internet.
“This definitely took your breath away a little bit quicker than jumping into the pool,” said Troup, a three-year veteran of the Polar Plunge.