MANCHESTER – There was a shark spotted at Harry Wright Lake recently. Also spotted was a penguin, a mayor, council president, school superintendent, police officers and more than 100 other plungers.
The occasion marked the 10th annual Regional Day School Penguin Plunge to help raise money for two big spring events.
Regional Day School is a school for students ages 3-21 with special needs. While the school is part of the Manchester Township School District, it is located at 890 Toms River Road in Jackson Township.
All proceeds from the event will go directly to the Regional Day School students for their upcoming prom and graduation.
The school’s principal, Lisa Michallis, said, “this event started with an idea from a former school secretary and then Manchester resident, Linda McCarthy. She was our school’s prom coordinator and wanted to enhance the experience for our students, ages 14 and older, that attend the prom held during school hours.”
The principal said, “Linda talked to her husband, John, about the idea for a plunge and the two of them got the community involved. John was a Manchester Police Officer and solicited the support from the Manchester Alliance, Police Department and the PAL. Maryann Borthwick worked for the school district and then township. She has since retired.”
She said Officers John Henry, Dennis McCann and his wife Ellen, and community member John McGuire “were instrumental in coordinating the event and the longevity of the event. The ‘Penguins with a Purpose’ was born. The penguin is our school mascot.”
John and Linda were once again in attendance for this year’s event. Refreshments were provided by the McCarthys and McGuire. Plunging this year for the first time were Mayor Robert Arace and Council President Roxanne Conniff along with a number of township police officers.
Michallis said, “all participants received a certificate. Most of our volunteers are Regional Day School employees (principal, secretaries, teachers and support staff).”
“It is similar to a Polar Bear Plunge. Students, staff, our Superintendent of Schools, police officers, and local community members are there to support this endeavor and jump in the Harry Wright Lake,” Michallis said.
She noted that “over the years we have been out there in the fog, rain and snow. There were even a few years when the water temperature was warmer than the air temperature. We raise approximately $8,000 through this event.”
This year’s plunge marked the first event since the COVID-19 pandemic. Michallis said, “in past years we would average 100 in attendance and approximately 40 people would plunge. Nothing stops us. A big thank you to the Manchester Township Lions and PBA # 246.”
The plunge also involved the Manchester Township Alliance and featured raffles, hot chocolate, coffee, hot dogs, coffee cake and snacks. The plungers prepared for the cold dip huddling under the lake’s food concession area as the rain came down.
The downpour ceased only a few minutes prior to the 1 p.m. plunge. Then it was time for the penguin plungers to make their way over to the lake to enter the water. That included one plunger costumed as a shark who had to carefully waddle her way to the beach.
Wearing flip flops on his feet was another first timer, School Superintendent John Berenato. “I am ready to go,” he said. This marked his first time ever in doing a plunge.
After the plunge Mayor Arace remarked, “it was great. It was cold.”
Conniff was shivering on the beach prior to entering the water but she said later that it was a good experience. “It actually wasn’t too bad, It was much better than I thought it was going to be. It was a lot of fun. I’m glad I finally did it.”
“We had 142 plungers this year,” Michallis said. “It was fun and I’m glad the rain stopped and held off but we have been out here in rain, sleet and snow over the years. It was a great, great well attended event today. It is always a great day. We’ll be out again next year.”
“This year’s prom is scheduled for May 25th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. We have a DJ, catered lunch, dessert bar, photo booth, and crown our prom king and queen. Each spring we transform our school’s multi-purpose room into a beautiful venue for students,” the principal added.