Cumberland Times-News

March 2, 2013

Taking the (Hooley) plunge

Michael A. Sawyers
Cumberland Times-News

— ROCKY GAP — The piggy bank of the Special Olympics of Allegany County became more difficult to lift Saturday afternoon after more than 900 people braved a temperature of 32 degrees and a wind of 7 mph to run into the frigid waters of Lake Habeeb at Rocky Gap State Park.

Saturday’s Hooley Plunge was the 9th annual and organizer Dr. Sean McCagh said this was the third consecutive year that more than $100,000 was raised. By 3 p.m. the tally was up to $107,000.

How cold was it?

We’re talking snot-on-mustache cold, can’t-catch-my-breath cold and I’m-glad-that’s-over cold.

Jeff Babich, Cumberland, plunging with a group of Jaycees, knew why he did it. “It’s for a great cause,” he said, describing the experience in the simplest of terms, “k-k-k-cold.”

Some plungers really didn’t live up to the name, going only knee deep before returning to the beach. Others, though, such as Matt Delawder, submerged.

“If you are going to do it, might as well do it right,” said Delawder of Paw Paw, who was accompanied by five fellow information-technology employees from the Western Maryland Health System.

“My brother, Josh, lives in Hilton Head (South Carolina) and he sent me a text this morning saying it was 74 degrees down there,” Delawder said, shaking his head and flinging water droplets.

Greg Heisey, a Frostburg State University student from Harford County, was shirtless and wet from toes to scalp. “I liked it,” Heisey said. “I’ve been in cold water before.”

Chloe Watkins, Cumberland, a 5th grader at South Penn Elementary, was being toweled off by her mother. She said a bunch of her teachers went in so she figured she would plunge as well.

“The water was freezing cold, but I’ll do it again next year,” Watkins said.

South Penn Elementary raised $1,500.

Tammy Coffman was taking photos of the plunging Bishop Walsh students.

“My daughter is one of them and the photos will be for the yearbook,” Coffman said.

If Canada geese ever wonder about anything, this was a great chance for the 20 or so feathered onlookers farther out on the lake to do so.

Many participants went as far as possible into the lake reaching and high-fiving the water rescue personnel standing belly-button-or-so deep and forming a human barrier to the open lake.

Before the 1 p.m. plunge, numerous participants prepared for the gelid water by way of liquid amber anesthesia, the kind that made Milwaukee famous.

Costumes were many and varied, representing a sort of badly timed Halloween with a St. Patrick’s Day theme.

New teams this year included Federal Corrections Institute and MedExpress.

Snow flakes, attempting to reach the flurry level, added to the day’s biting backdrop that also included goose bumps, smiles and a burgeoning Special Olympics bank account.

Organizers believe the tally could reach $112,000 once all pledges are counted.

Contact Michael A. Sawyers at