Spirits were high, even if the -7° celsius temperature outdoors wasn’t, as the brave participants at the Polar Plunge in Waterloo prepared to take a frigid dip. Director of Education John Bryant, Associate Director Lila Read, and Superintendents Scott Miller, Ron DeBoer, Elaine Ranney and Graham Shantz all volunteered to take the plunge in support of Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) students and Special Olympics athletes in February 2020.
The event, hosted by the Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) in support of Special Olympics Ontario and the spring games coming to Waterloo Region this May, offered volunteers a refreshing plunge, in return for their fundraising efforts. In total, 112 participants raised $45,250 to support the athletes.
Scott Miller, superintendent of student achievement and well-being, spearheaded the WRDSB effort at the plunge and is a member of the local Special Olympics steering committee.
“When the opportunity arose to be a part of the leadership team bringing these games to Waterloo, it was an easy decision to take part,” said Miller.
Supporting the Special Olympics is nothing new, explained Miller, as an event is traditionally hosted annually at a local level, offering athletes with intellectual disabilities in Grades 7 through 12 the opportunity to take part. The chance to take part in the Polar Plunge is just another avenue to help promote the games, and get the community involved.
“We want to encourage our community to get engaged with the event,” said Miller. “It was an exciting way to bring everyone together.”
Miller was pleased to see the many community organizations represented at the plunge, including the KW Titans, the Laurier football team and Extend-A-Family, to name a few. For him, having a WRDSB presence at the plunge was important as it demonstrates a commitment to each and every student, while helping to shine a light on the opportunities that exist beyond school.
John Bryant, director of education, led the plungers into the icy waters and was happy to support an organization that creates opportunities for students and community members alike. He sees it as an example of the WRDSB working closely with their partners in Waterloo Region to support each and every one of our students.
“It’s good for our community, it’s good for our school system,” said Bryant. “It’s a lot of fun and a great event.”
While some may have been hoping for a warmer day for the plunge, Bryant was glad the weather was appropriately cold, as it meant the experience was as authentic and thrilling as he had hoped it would be.
“I was monitoring the weather throughout the week,” said Bryant. “I found out that Saturday was going to be the coldest day.”
The group, he explained, was spurred on by the greater cause they were supporting, rather than daunted by the task of jumping into the icy water. Bryant predicts the WRDSB contingent will only grow in the future, and he hopes it becomes a regular event for staff to support.
“I think it’s going to be an annual tradition,” said Bryant. “It’s so much more than just jumping in some water.”
Recruiting members of the senior team to take the plunge was easier than Miller had expected, with his fellow Superintendent Ron DeBoer eagerly signing up and getting the ball rolling. From there, the rest of the team joined on quickly, excited to support athletes and the community.
“It was great to have Director Bryant and Associate Director Read take part,” said Miller. “We believe in the opportunities for each and every student.”
“It was a really unique team-building opportunity,” said Miller, adding that he was especially grateful for all the members of the WRDSB team that took the plunge, and everyone who came out to cheer them on.
The day took a special turn for Associate Director Lila Read, who had a surprise reunion with a former student and Special Olympic athlete, Letisha Fay. Fay graduated from Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational School (KCI) in 2008, while Read was principal at the secondary school.
“Letisha would come and visit me every day,” said Read. “She was an amazing student leader.”
Fay, who still visits Read a few times each year, remembers her time at the school fondly – from playing on the basketball team, to winning the Principal’s Prize when she graduated.
Basketball continues to be a passion for Fay. Her dedication to the sport runs deep, even inspiring Fay to shovel the snow off her local basketball court in the winter, so she can practice.
Fay explained her favourite part of the Special Olympics is “being part of a team.” Apart from enjoying the game, the experience has allowed her to build strong relationships with her teammates, and build a network of supporters. She encourages anyone who is interested to get involved with the Special Olympics.
“I started with Special Olympics in 2008, after I graduated high school,” said Fay, who now plays for a basketball team based in Guelph. “It’s a team atmosphere and I have lots of friends in the Special Olympics now.”
Already looking forward to taking the plunge again next time, Read was grateful to have had the opportunity to support the shared goals of the WRDSB and Special Olympics Ontario by creating opportunities for success for every student and every person.
“It was a great day and a lot of fun,” said Read. “There’s no better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than supporting our students and athletes.”
Before she left, Fay was sure to invite her favourite principal out to watch her on the basketball court.
“Are you going to come watch?” asked Fay.
“Absolutely!” replied Read with a smile.