Thousands plunge into the Atlantic for a good cause in Long Beach

Annual Polar Bears Super Bowl Splash benefits Make-A-Wish

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“Part of my whole philosophy with the kids is giving back. I teach the kids philanthropy is very important,” said Darren Raymar, principal of the William S. Covert School in Rockville Centre and founder of the Raymar’s Children Fund, who attended the Long Beach Polar Bears Super Bowl Splash for the fourth straight year on Sunday.

He and a group of students, parents and teachers, who call themselves Raymar’s Covert Crew, took part in the annual event, in which thousands of people ran into the 40-degree water to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Before the jump, Raymar hosted a pre-party at his apartment in Long Beach, where students ate bagels and drank Shirley Temples. His group is on the list of top five largest Polar Bears donors for the Make-A-Wish Metro New York Foundation, an organization that helps fulfill the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions.

“That’s my whole mission at school — giving back and teaching kids that it’s very important to treat people well and help others,” Raymar said. “Our kids in kindergarten through fifth grade learn you need to give back to the community. It’s awesome — the kids just have the best time and they’re excited to jump in the water with the principal.”

The event, now in its 22nd year, has raised more than $6.5 million for the organization. Hosted by the Long Beach Polar Bears club, it’s one of the most popular events in town throughout the year.

“It’s basically a holiday here in Long Beach,” said City Council President Anthony Eramo. “There’s some football game later today, but really today is all about Polar Bear. It takes hundreds of people to make sure this is a safe, fun event for our residents and visitors alike, whether it’s beach maintenance, or parks and recreation, or sanitation — it’s just so many people that make this a day that everyone can share. And at the end of the day, hundreds of kids get to go on a wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.”

An estimated 20,000 people lined the shoreline and boardwalk to support the cause, while about 7,000 people took the plunge. Despite temperatures that plummeted into the teens in the days leading to the event, Sunday was about 40 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Organizer Pete Meyers compared the temperature to a heat wave, and said it encouraged people to come out and take part in the benefit.

“The water was delicious,” said Mike Bradley, who organizes the plunge with Meyers and Kevin McCarthy, his longtime friends. “We’re raising a lot of money for all the kids that are afflicted with many different life-threatening illnesses. Make-A-Wish is a wonderful organization, and they always support us. The City of Long Beach is a wonderful ally of ours. They do everything they can to help us get this event going.”

The tradition began in 1998 when Meyers and McCarthy jumped into the freezing Atlantic waters on the morning of the Super Bowl. As interest in the dip spread, they turned it into a charity event to raise money in honor of Bradley’s son, Paulie, who died of cancer at age 4 in 1997. Last year, more than $510,000 was collected and used to grant 34 wishes for children.

“We thought that we were having such a crowd and such a good time that we should do it for a worthy cause,” Bradley said, “and we picked Make-A-Wish to do it, and they’ve been a wonderful organization.”

Another area of excitement among supporters each year is the event’s array of apparel and color selection. Polar Bear swag has become a staple among participants. This year’s colors were gray, red and blue, and items included sweatshirts, T-shirts, hoodies, towels, hats and more.

“We’re sneaking up on 1,000 wishes for children so that they can go with their families some place in the world — a place of their choice — so that they might get away from their illnesses and all the other troubles going on in their lives,” Bradley said.

Eramo said the chief executive officer of Make-A-Wish Metro New York noted, “This is, by far, the highest grossing event that they hold for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, so I’m really proud of that.”

To view more photos from the event click here