2011-12-29 / Front Page

2012 plunge expected to have a different feel

A tradition will begin on the island Sunday, this time around it will be family-friendly, alcohol-free affair

(Left to right) John Barber, with wife Darla, meet with Bob Bailey on Tuesday to discuss the final touches for the inaugural Jamestown 1st Day Plunge at East Ferry. Below, John Kelly, one of the 13 men who started the tradition more than 35 years ago, listens as the group discusses logistics. 
PHOTOS BY KEN SHANE (Left to right) John Barber, with wife Darla, meet with Bob Bailey on Tuesday to discuss the final touches for the inaugural Jamestown 1st Day Plunge at East Ferry. Below, John Kelly, one of the 13 men who started the tradition more than 35 years ago, listens as the group discusses logistics. PHOTOS BY KEN SHANE All is ready for the inaugural Jamestown 1st Day Plunge, scheduled to take place at noon on New Year’s Day at the town beach at East Ferry. Although this is officially the first of its kind, it is in reality a continuation of a tradition that has lasted for more than 35 years on the island.

Earlier this year, Special Olympics Rhode Island, citing in- surance concerns and an inability to control ever-growing crowds at Mackerel Cove, opted to end the annual Penguin Plunge, which had been taking place under their auspices here for 35 years. The decision was made to move that event to Roger Wheeler State Beach in Narragansett.

A group of local residents, led by realtor Bob Bailey, decided not to take the departure of the Penguin Plunge lying down, and began planning to replace that event with a local plunge of their own.

One of the first decisions made was to move the event from Mackerel Cove to East Ferry in an effort to improve crowd control, and also to benefit the downtown businesses. After consultation with Police Chief Edward Mello, it was agreed that the plunge would be billed as an alcohol-free event.

Support from the town government came quickly, and when final approvals were granted several weeks ago, the planning progressed in earnest. A website was set up – Jamestown1stDayPlunge.com – and a Facebook page was created. The organizing group decided that proceeds from the event would benefit two charities each year on a revolving basis.

“The Jamestown 1st Day Plunge event has gone well with organizing and approvals from the town,” Bailey said. “We’re looking forward to a great weekend. The weather forecast is for 43 degrees. We’ve got air temperature that’s going to be very pleasant, and the water temperature will be in the 40s as well. We expect to have a good crowd, and make this a very family-friendly event.”

The charities chosen for this year are the town’s Fourth of July fireworks committee, and the Josh Barber Fund, which operates through the WeAllMoveOn.org website. The fund was created by Barber’s family in the wake of the local musician’s death. One of the goals of the fund is to raise money to provide transitional care to people suffering from depression who are released from hospitals where they have been closely monitored, to the outside world where they are often completely on their own.

According to John Barber, who runs the Josh Barber Fund in memory of his son, “We’ve been in Jamestown for 30 years. The plunge is an annual thing that everybody looks forward to whether the weather is good or bad. We were really disappointed to see that it was going to move out of town. Now we’re very happy that it’s going to stay in town. On top of that we’re really happy that the organizers contacted us and wanted us to be the recipients of some of the proceeds this year. It’s really good that the town’s come together to bring this back.”

People interested in participating in this year’s 1st Day Plunge are asked to go to the website where they can download a form that is used for registration and for waiver purposes. This form can be printed out and returned to the Jamestown Recreation Center, the Narragansett Café or the Lila Delman office. Each person returning the form will be given a wristband indicating that they are registered for the event.

The organizers hope that participants will raise sponsorship money to support them in the plunge. The money can be returned along with the registration form, or it can be turned in on the day of the event. The first 50 people to register with sponsorship money of $50 or more will receive a free event T-shirt. T-shirts will also be available for sale to the public on the day of the event.

There is no cost to register. Preregistration for the plunge begins at 10 a.m. on New Year’s Day at the rec center. Anyone interested in volunteering to help out with the event is asked to be at the center at 9 a.m. on Sunday.

Unlike past events, there will be a wide range of activities taking place in conjunction with the plunge. The recreation center will be open with crafts and games for young people, and the Jamestown Community Band will perform at the beach.

Fire pits will be set up around Veteran’s Park to keep the entrants warm, and merchandise will be available for sale. Local restaurants including the Narragansett Café, Chopmist Charlie’s and Trattoria Simpatico will be open and feature live music.

John Kelly was one of those responsible for starting the New Year’s Day tradition more than 35 years ago. “I just want to see it stay on the island,” he said. “I started it many years ago and I was sad when I heard that it was going to have to leave the island. When I heard there was a group that wanted to keep it here, I volunteered.”

Kelly said that the tradition started with 13 guys who lived at the end of Howland Avenue. “We started off just going in the water and then going back and watching football games,” he said. “The second year we were going over the hill when someone said that it looked like something was going on at the beach. It turns out that they had heard about it on the news and a couple of hundred people came down. Then we all went down to the ’Ganny because there were so many people that we couldn’t go back to the house. We started planning there.”

Kelly, a former special education teacher, decided that future plunges should benefit Special Olympics Rhode Island. Approximately $1,500 was raised for the cause the next year. In subsequent years, as much as $60,000 was raised each year. All told, the Penguin Plunge raised more than $1 million for Special Olympics and became a model for similar events throughout the nation.

“For whatever reasons, Special Olympics couldn’t control it anymore so they’re taking it away,” Kelly said. “I had to decide which way to go. I decided to stay on the island. I’ll still cut a check to Special Olympics, but also help the organizations here.”

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