LIVINGSTON, NJ — In support of the 26,000 athletes who train and compete year-round for Special Olympics New Jersey, a handful of physical education (PE) teachers at Livingston Public Schools are currently raising funds ahead of this year’s Polar Bear Plunge to be held on Saturday in Seaside Heights.
As he nears his personal fundraising goal of $2,000 for the year, Roger Rubinetti, a Heritage Middle School (HMS) teacher and head coach of the Livingston High School (LHS) boys soccer team, is encouraging the community to support the cause.
With less than a week left before the plunge, Rubinetti and the more than 100 members of the “2nd Avenue Freeze-Out” team—which also includes fellow Heritage PE teachers James Merlo and Patrick Nann as well as Nann’s wife, Kelly, a PE teacher at LHS—have cumulatively raised nearly $46,000 toward the team’s goal of $50,000.
“For me, coaching and teaching and being with kids all the time and having a number of special ed students and seeing the smiles on their faces when they get to participate—there’s no greater satisfaction,” said Rubinetti. “So being able to raise all this money and seeing where the money goes for these kids and even adults is fascinating…I’ve been able to raise over $5,500 myself over the course of four years [and] you just get hooked on it.”
Each year, thousands of individuals, teams, organizations and businesses brave the cold in bathing suits, street clothes and costumes to raise money for Special Olympics New Jersey, a nonprofit organization that provides sports training and athletic competitions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
Rubinetti is now in his fourth year participating after Nann and group leader Anthony Castano, a teacher at Hanover Park, inspired him to get involved. Although the thought of literally plunging into the freezing Jersey Shore waters in the middle of February seemed daunting at first, Rubinetti was immediately hooked after seeing the atmosphere of the event and the direct impact that these funds have on the athletes.
“It’s a really fun day,” he said. “A bunch of the [team] members rent out a condo for the night, and they put up this massive party tent with live music, food and drinks starting at 9 a.m. Then we go to the beach and there’s a massive line of thousands and thousands of people that line up and wait for the horn and everyone just races to the water and jumps in…
“And there are all different types of people—kids and parents with their families do it; there are people that dressed up as superheroes and Santa Clauses; a lot of the police forces are down there and get in the water with their banners—it’s like a big party…If you’ve ever gone to a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, it’s like one of those atmospheres where everybody is there cheering each other on and just getting excited for the event.”
Also keeping him coming back to the event each year is the support Rubinetti has seen from not only his family, friends, colleagues and parents, but also from current and former students—specifically members of the boys soccer team at LHS.
“The parents in my program and the players themselves are probably about 75 percent of my donations,” he said. “It’s one thing when you see the parents do it, but when the kids reach in on their own and you see donations made by your players, that’s a pretty cool feeling. They’re old enough now that they get it and they understand what it means to help others.”