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Polar Vortex Doesn't Stop 'Plunge at the Point'

Ravens Roosts from around the region gathered Saturday for Plunge at the Point in Fort Howard.

Plunge at the Point 2014. Courtesy photo
Plunge at the Point 2014. Courtesy photo
Arctic tundra-like conditions canceled the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge on Saturday but the Fort Howard version of the Maryland Special Olympics fundraiser went on as planned.

For the fifth year, Ravens Roost 86 in Edgemere carried out a smaller version of the Sandy Point State Park event that has grown to be one of the largest—and most successful—one-day fundraisers in the country.

Held this year at the Balco Club in Fort Howard, the local plunge involved several Ravens Roosts that gathered to take icy dips in the Chesapeake Bay without the huge crowds and traffic jams of the Sandy Point event.

About 165 people attended the Plunge at the Point, as the event was dubbed this year, according to Roost 86 president Val Taylor. Local Roost members were joined by those of Roost 98 (sponsored by the Sail Inn in Edgemere), Roost 60 (from The Harp in Perry Hall), Roost 131 from Jarrettsville, Roost 116 from Shrewsberry, Pa., as well as Balco Club members.

The group raised just over $11,000 this year, bringing the four-year total to more than $55,000, according to Roost 86 member Nick Wallace. 

The local group branched off from the main Sandy Point event several years ago and held three plunges at the Dock of the Bay, a waterfront restaurant in Millers Island. The closure of that business meant the Roost had to find a different venue if they wanted to continue holding a local plunge.

"The Balco Club did a tremendous job hosting the event and we are excited about our future with them," Wallace wrote in an email message. "Saturday morning all of our phones blew up when word got out that Sandy Point canceled."

The Balco event, which also included a fundraising bull roast, was sold out and the local organizers found themselves turning people away who wanted to plunge after the main event was canceled.

Nick Wallace, his twin brother, Zack Wallace and Roost member Chris Topper worked Thursday and Friday to break up and clear away as much ice as they could. The water around the club's pier was frozen solid, causing the men to use sledgehammers and chainsaws to break it up.

On Friday, they were dismayed to discover that much of the ice broken up Thursday had refrozen overnight.

But Saturday morning, the group discovered that winds had pushed much of the ice further into the creek and left the plunging area filled with slush, according to Nick Wallace.

As with most events of this magnitude, many people were responsible for its success, according to Nick Wallace.

Dave McClelland chairs the event and committee members stepped up to volunteer for the most unusual of tasks, including the design and construction of a custom set of steps to allow participates to get safely in the water.

At the Dock of the Bay, Plungers could access the water via a sandy beach. The Balco presented more of a challenge, thanks to a rocky bulkhead that lines the property, Wallace said.

In stepped Roost member Jim Seldomridge, who scoped out the problem, did some measuring, bought the materials and designed the steps that fit perfectly on the pier and fed into the water.

Wallace couldn't say enough about the man who volunteered to build the steps and then took financial responsibility for the project as well.

On sending a "quick note on the kind of guy Jim Seldomridge is," Wallace said he found himself at the plunge without shoes to wear in the water. He was all outfitted in waders and other protective gear to clear out the ice, but had forgotten water shoes for the actual plunge.

Seldomridge offered Wallace an "extra' pair he had and the group carried out their plunging duties.

"I noticed later that Jim didn't have shoes on," Wallace said. "I asked where they were and he said he gave me his so I could plunge. That's the kind of guy he is, he'll give you the shoes off his feet when it's 25 degrees out."

Seldomridge and his wife, Mary, were also some of the group's most successful fundraisers, together collecting more than $2,000, according to Wallace.

Taylor said without the Wallaces, the Plunge wouldn't have happened: "Many thanks again to Nick and Zack Wallace for their tireless efforts from Thursday to Saturday," Taylor said in an email. "There could be no plunging if we didn't have water to get into."

It's a labor of love for all involved.

"It was a day of smiles, good music, good food and ice cold slushy water," Nick Wallace said.

He gave a nod to the dedication of chairman McClelland, who Wallace said is probably already working  on next year's event.

"That's how much this event means to him," Wallace said of McClelland. "Every year he makes it better, every year we learn a few things and come up with ideas for the next."

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