2011-12-08 / Front Page

Group looks to reinstitute plunge

BY KEN SHANE

In November, Special Olympics Rhode Island announced that it would relocate its annual Penguin Plunge from Mackerel Cove in Jamestown, where it had been a New Year’s Day tradition for 35 years, to Roger Wheeler State Beach in Narragansett. The organization cited insurance issues and access control as the two primary reasons for the change of venue.

A group of local residents, led by realtor Bob Bailey, were disappointed in the Special Olympics announcement, and decided not to let the holiday tradition die. “I thought a tradition that many folks in town who got used to and got to expect on New Year’s Day might not continue,” Bailey said. “I immediately thought that we were losing a great New Year’s Day event and that the tradition needed to continue.”

Bailey got a little nudge from Jamestown Press publisher Jeff McDonough who asked Bailey to step up and get involved just as Bailey had when the Rocket Dogs decided to give up organizing the Jamestown Fourth of July fireworks. At that time, Bailey was part of a small group who banded together to form the Rocket ’hogs, the group that took over the Fourth of July job to keep that particular tradition alive.

“Sometimes there’s a torch passing that needs to occur to keep events that islanders have come to enjoy going,” Bailey said. “Sometimes I wonder why I stick my neck out for it, but having young kids, and having grown up on the island all of my life, I kind of like to see things continue.”

“I was contacted by Bob Bailey who indicated that there were several interested Jamestown residents who had been participated in the plunge for 35 years and wanted to continue the tradition either at Mackerel Cove or at East Ferry,” Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said. “With that comment, a group of us gathered at the Narragansett CafĂ© a week ago and very enthusiastically supported the idea of relocating the plunge to East Ferry. It’s a tremendous idea.”

Bailey and his group are currently planning a new tradition for New Year’s Day. If all goes according to plan, the Jamestown First Day Penguin Plunge will take place on Jan. 1. In order to make the event possible, the insurance hurdle cited by Special Olympics was addressed first.

In an effort to deal with the insurance issue, Bailey and his group were able to determine that if they could get the town’s endorsement, it would be possible for the necessary insurance to be issued by the town’s insurance company.

“Even though there will be an expense for that item, an event type policy, we’re going to use fundraising and donations to cover that cost so that it’s not a burden to the town’s taxpayers,” Bailey said.

In addition to consultations with Keiser and Finance Director Christina Collins, the group has met with Police Chief Edward Mello and Fire Chief Jim Bryer. It was Mello who suggested that the new event would benefit from a change of venue to the town beach at East Ferry. The thinking was that the event could be better controlled and that concerns over restroom facilities and conservation issues at Mackerel Cove would be allayed.

“It’s a great opportunity to reset, and make it a family-friendly, alcohol-free event,” Mello said. “I think moving it down to the village is a great idea. That atmosphere there is going to make it more possible for us to manage the event. We are certainly committed to making it a safe event.”

According to Bailey, moving the event to the town beach will result in increased business for the village’s shops and restaurants, and he hopes that the businesses will respond with donations to the event.

While all of the details of the event are not complete, Bailey expects the approval of the Town Council to be made formal at Monday night’s meeting. Informal support has already been indicated by the councilors. Bailey doesn’t foresee any problems with the approval based on the fact that the plan is to hold a family-friendly event. The nature of the event will be stressed in all of the event advertising and printed material.

“In the event that people are seen with alcohol, they’re not going to receive citations, they’re going to be ejected from the event.” Bailey said. Referring to Mello, Bailey said, “He doesn’t want them here, he doesn’t want the behavior, he doesn’t want the frat party atmosphere.”

Bailey anticipates a significant shift in the overall participation in the event. He thinks that a large number of people who participated in the plunge in past years, as well as spectators, will make the journey to Roger Wheeler State Beach on New Year’s Day. He is hopeful that the overall crowd in Jamestown will be significantly smaller than in past years.

“By having it at East Ferry, it will allow people who are near the village to walk, alleviating a lot of the congestion of vehicles,” Bailey said.

The new plunge will also feature more activities for children. In the past, the event has appealed to adults and teenagers, but Bailey is determined to get people of all ages involved in some way. Toward that end, he is hoping to have the recreation center open on New Year’s Day for kid-friendly events including coloring contests, games and races.

The plan is for the Jamestown First Day Penguin Plunge to take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Jan. 1, with pre-registration at 10 a.m. at the rec center.

Bailey is hopeful that the access issue observed by Special Olympics, where people who were not registered for the event ran into the water anyway, can be overcome in a variety of ways. Bailey mentioned T-shirts and awards for people who raise the most money as helpful parts of that effort. He is confident that the new plunge will attract at least as many registrants, 135, as last year’s event did. He points to the fact that proceeds from the event will go to local charities as a reason for this confi dence.

Two local charities will be selected, on a revolving basis, to be the recipients of the event proceeds each year. The funds will come in through the town and then be donated to the charities. If the first event does take place, the money will go to the Josh Barber Memorial Fund, which is administered by weallmoveon.org, and the Jamestown fireworks fund. The fireworks fund was chosen with an eye toward possibly relocating the annual Fourth of July fireworks display to East Ferry.

“The hope is that if this event goes off well on New Year’s Day, we could use the funds raised through this event to bring the fireworks to East Ferry as well, to make it another event that benefi ts the village district area, and to alleviate any of the growing concerns about traffic and conservation issues at Mackerel Cove,” Bailey said.

“There is a rumor that several Town Council members and myself may participate,” Keiser said.

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