Several players from St. Rita's hockey team took part in the recent police plunge at North Avenue Beach in Chicago to raise money for Special Olympics Chicago. | Supplied photo
Updated: April 21, 2014 6:06AM
St. Rita High School hockey team members recently were “Freezin’ for a Reason,” but not on the ice.
Nearly 20 players from St. Rita’s junior-varsity and varsity hockey teams recently took a “polar plunge” into frigid Lake Michigan to benefit Special Olympics Chicago, in large part due to the efforts of St. Rita hockey player Scott Knusta.
Knusta, 16, of Chicago, was instrumental in getting his teammates off the ice and into the icy water.
“It’s just for a great cause, and it helps out so much,” Knusta said. “I want kids that have special needs to be able to participate in things that I can participate in.”
Knusta said he and three friends became plungers after having a memorable experience at the Chicago Polar Plunge in his freshman year.
“We had a blast,” Knusta said of their time in 2011 earning service hours, a mandate for all St. Rita High School students.
As volunteers, Knusta and his friends helped wherever needed during the event, but they realized they could do even more through fundraising.
“We totally thought of ... doing (the Chicago Polar Plunge) the next year, and we did,” Knusta said.
The efforts of Knusta and six friends in 2012 yielded about $1,000.
“We just had tons of fun, and the atmosphere was great,” Knusta said.
Kathy Knusta said her son “got the fever” and wanted to raise even more money in 2013. With the blessing of head hockey coach Brian Coleman, Knusta got members of the junior-varsity and varsity St. Rita hockey teams on board.
Taking their fundraising efforts to a new level, 20 plungers — 18 hockey players, one player’s dad, and a former player, Conor Alfirevic — raised $7,175 for Special Olympics Chicago.
Although the Special Olympics is Knusta’s charity of choice, the Polar Plunge is not the only event at which he has volunteered. Knusta has earned service hours at other Special Olympics Chicago events such as the Chi-Town Race and The Electric Run.
But it was the very first event, when he was an eighth-grader at Bridgeport Catholic Academy, that got him hooked, Knusta said, as special-needs students visited his school and interacted with the students.
“It’s just great seeing all the smiles on the kids’ faces,” Knusta said. “Watching them have fun was just great.”
Coleman, in his first year as the St. Rita hockey head coach, said he was impressed with the way his athletes handled themselves throughout the event, using their free time to fund-raise and attend the event.
“I really can’t take any credit for the Polar Plunge,” Coleman said. “That was really something that Scott initiated and he really jumped on it. I thought it was great.”
Coleman said although his involvement this year was in giving the boys permission to participate, he plans to join them in the Plunge next year.
“This is something that the players took upon themselves. They wanted to give back and they ran with it,” Coleman said. “I thought it was above and beyond. I was ecstatic that these guys did it on their own and wanted to give back. It shows the character of the young men that we have on our team. They look out for each other and for strangers as well. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Kathy Knusta, is proud, too, of her son, all the boys involved and St. Rita for being so supportive. She said she hopes other high school sports teams follow suit in helping the Special Olympics.
“We love using their team as an example,” Kathy said.
The hockey teams now have two future goals: to raise more than $10,000 next year and to get permission from the St. Rita administration to attend the Special Olympics opening ceremonies in May.
Kathy Knusta said parents are “really pushing” for the boys to attend “just to show them that this is where all your hard work is going toward.”
St. Rita’s 2014 Polar Plunge team included Mike Beam, Kennedy Dowling, Matt Felmon, Ryan Harkins, Ian Jedlowski, Knusta, Ryan Lieber, Tommy Magnavite, Steven Meister, Conor Mulcahy, Tom Mulcahy (Conor’s Dad), Mike Iwaniec, Will Oswald, Sam Rendon, Trevor Scianna, Jack Sereiko, Billy Sink, Danny Sink, Jeff Zroskie and Alfirevic.