Shepard High School, 13049 S. Ridgeland Ave., Palos Heights, honored Special Olympics Illinois with a unique school-based Polar Plunge that took place right on campus on March 7. (Supplied photos)

Shepard High School, 13049 S. Ridgeland Ave., Palos Heights, honored Special Olympics Illinois with a unique school-based Polar Plunge that took place right on campus on March 7. (Supplied photos)

Shepard takes plunge for Special Olympics Illinois

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Shepard High School, 13049 S. Ridgeland Ave., Palos Heights, honored Special Olympics Illinois with a unique school-based Polar Plunge that took place right on campus on March 7.

By Kelly White

Shepard High School has been diving into great things once again this academic year.

The high school, 13049 S. Ridgeland Ave., Palos Heights, honored Special Olympics Illinois with a unique school-based Polar Plunge that took place right on campus on March 7.

“This is one of my favorite days of the year. The excitement and energy surrounding the event is contagious,” Ashley Lythberg, special education teacher for POWER PE and Special Olympics Coordinator at Shepard, said. “I love how excited the kids get and how much they buy into the big picture of the Polar Plunge.”

The Polar Plunge, sometimes held in conjunction with the Law Enforcement Torch Run, is a huge fundraising effort benefiting Special Olympics and the athletes. In order to participate, individuals or teams collect pledges from friends, family, and colleagues to lock in their spot and take the dive into chilly waters.

This year marked the eighth year Shepard participated in the event and its 120 plungers included the high school’s POWER mentors, athletes, staff, administrators and baseball team.

Shepard’s POWER PE stands for Physical Opportunities with Exceptional Rewards. In this program, students apply to work as buddies or mentors for their peers with disabilities in the physical education setting.

The plunge took place during all POWER PE periods on the Shepard football field. There were ice buckets, a slip n’ slide and inflatable pools provided by the school.

The program was founded by Lythberg along with co-POWER PE instructor, Scott Richardson nearly a decade ago. It has become very popular among students, expanding beyond PE to also include art and culinary courses.

“Students really take ownership over this event,” Lythberg said. “They take the lead on all planning, fundraising and spreading awareness. They understand that they are making a difference that is directly impacting the Special Olympic athletes in our area. Many of our POWER mentors are Unified Partners and volunteer with Special Olympics Illinois events throughout the year and truly get to see what a difference these programs make for our Astros.”

All money raised goes directly to Special Olympics Illinois to provide the best opportunities for its athletes.

Shepard typically set a fundraising goal of $10,000 for its team, but with so many Astros plunging this year, the high school anticipated much more again this year. Plungers easily surpassed the goal by raising an astounding $16,000.

“Since our first plunge in 2016, the Shepard team has raised $90,000 for Special Olympics Illinois,” Lythberg said. “We are confident this year will push us over the $100,000 mark, making it extra special for this particular group.”

It definitely did and school officials are beyond grateful for everyone who contributed to reaching the $100,000 donation mark.

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Shepard High School, 13049 S. Ridgeland Ave., Palos Heights, honored Special Olympics Illinois with a unique school-based Polar Plunge that took place right on campus on March 7.

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