Hooley Plunge

In this Times-News file photo, the late Dr. Sean McCagh exits Lake Habeeb at Rocky Gap State Park after taking part in the 2018 Hooley Plunge. 

CUMBERLAND, Md. — While it may look a little different, the spirit of one of Allegany County’s most beloved annual fundraisers remains the same.

The Hooley Plunge is typically held in March and participants in the event — which raises money for Special Olympics of Allegany County and other organizations that support developmentally disabled individuals — rush into the icy-cold waters of Lake Habeeb at Rocky Gap State Park around St. Patrick’s Day.

While the decision to postpone the Plunge until Oct. 23 was made before his passing, the death of longtime organizer Dr. Sean McCagh in January was another blow to the event. This year’s “Ghouley Hooley,” said some of his fellow facilitators in recent interviews, will serve not only as a day to support the developmentally disabled but to honor McCagh’s memory.

Aside from being an “extremely special” person, Hooley Plunge co-chair Steve Gray said, McCagh was “very adamant” about supporting the Special Olympics and those with developmental disabilities as a whole. Co-chair Rob Adams agreed, noting that the Plunge had been McCagh’s “brainchild.”

While he ceded organization of the event to Alhambra Wamba Caravan 89 a few years earlier, Adams said, McCagh remained very involved with the fundraiser. In the months following McCagh’s death earlier this year, $58,000 has been raised for the event in his memory.

“It’s simply amazing,” Adams said. “It proves how much of an impact he had. ... Although he wasn’t out in front, Sean was always there. Now, it’s different. We’re trying to keep everything going positive, because the event is just amazing in the way it brings people together for a great cause.”

Money raised by the Hooley Plunge stays in Allegany County, organizers noted, and thereby benefits the community directly. Among other ventures, donations helped to fund local Special Olympian Jake Reynolds’ trip to the 2013 Winter Games in Korea, where he won a gold medal in skiing, Alhambra member Jim Stafford said.

In 17 years, the event has raised $1.8 million for Special Olympics and other organizations that work with the developmentally disabled. Gray said he thinks they’ll get “doggone close” to $2 million by the time the after-party at 1812 Brewery concludes Saturday evening.

Stafford said the event is an opportunity to serve “God’s special children,” and the turnout received is always moving. He expects that it will be even more so this year, with a large crowd anticipated between October’s warmer waters and a throng of folks wishing to honor McCagh’s legacy.

“If you look at a county the size of Allegany County — I’m going to say about 71,000 people — it’s amazing how many people will turn out in support of this type of operation,” Stafford said. “... I don’t know how much we’ll take in, but I’m tickled to death any time we get over $100,000. We keep getting emails and PayPals every day in (McCagh’s) memory. We got one today that was $500 from a friend of his in Jupiter, Florida. It keeps coming in daily, and it’s a tribute to him and what he did.”

In the spirit of the season, attendees are encouraged to come in costume, though Gray, Adams and Stafford each said they hadn’t come up with one for themselves yet.

“I can’t speculate as far as what they’re going to be, but I’m sure they will not leave us in suspicion much longer,” Gray said of the costumes planned by the Hooley faithful.

Lindsay Renner-Wood is a reporter for the Cumberland Times-News. Follow her on Twitter @LindsayRenWood, email lrenner-wood@times-news.com or call 304-639-4403.

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Lindsay Renner-Wood is a reporter for the Cumberland Times-News, covering West Virginia and more. Follow her on Twitter @LindsayRenWood, email lrenner-wood@times-news.com or call 304-639-4403.