Fifteen years ago, the Delran Defenders took their first frigid dip into the Atlantic Ocean as part of the Polar Bear Plunge in Wildwood. There were only three team members at the time, and they raised around $300 for Special Olympics New Jersey.
Fast forward to 2021, and the Delran Defenders, now with more than 20 members, have continued this annual tradition, raising around $75,000 to date. And although COVID-19 made this year’s plunge look a little different – OK, a lot different – the team still got soaked and raised more than $7,000 for a good cause.
Back in November, when Delran Township Police Department Lt. Jim Mitchell registered the Delran Defenders for this year’s plunge, it was still scheduled to take place in person. By December, safety factors surrounding the ongoing pandemic forced the plunge to go virtual.
The Polar Bear Plunge sent out suggestions for teams to have their own plunge, of sorts, at home, including by popping water balloons over their heads.
The suggestion didn’t sit well with Mitchell, who has more of a “go big or go home” mentality. If they couldn’t take a dip in the Atlantic, Mitchell wondered, what could they do?
“I was kicking around ideas, and it came to me one day. I could probably talk to the fire department and see if they’d be willing to participate,” Mitchell explained. “One thing you have in Delran that you don’t have in every other town is that the emergency services get along great. We’re all friends with each other.”
Mitchell asked the Delran Fire Department if they’d be willing to let the Delran Defenders run through a jet of cold water from one of their trucks. The idea was given the green light – even serving as a training opportunity for the department – and the Delran Defenders new “plunge” took shape.
On Saturday, March 20, the Delran Defenders gathered at the fire department’s Station No. 2 on Chester Avenue, and the team – which includes police officers, fire department members, EMS members and family and friends – ran through the spray, with an American flag waving in the background.
“It’s really nice we’re able to do things like this. I really appreciate the support of town council, and I really appreciate the support of the fire department,” Mitchell said.
After the “plunge,” the Delran Defenders, family, friends and supporters – which included Mayor Gary Catrambone and council members – enjoyed a cookout, with Mitchell acting as chef.
The 22-year Delran police veteran said most people don’t know the Delran Defenders even exist. They don’t take part in the Polar Bear Plunge for recognition; they have always done the plunge for, of course, the fun of the event, but more importantly also to support Special Olympics New Jersey.
“It’s a wonderful organization,” Mitchell said. “I can’t say enough things about Special Olympics.”
The Delran Defenders are still accepting donations. To contribute, visit www.classy.org/team/337501.