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Andrew students, staff raise nearly $26,000 for Special Olympics Illinois in polar plunge

Victor J. Andrew High School students huddled around a pool outside the school Thursday, taking turns jumping, some even flipping, into the cold water.

They were participating in the Be Cool event as part of the Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge, raising nearly $26,000 dollars for Special Olympics Illinois, according to school officials.

Ryan DeSanto, an Andrew junior and Special Olympics athlete, raised $1,555 from the highest number of donors. DeSanto, who participates in soccer, track, basketball and bowling, said his favorite part of the Special Olympics is being active.

DeSanto, dressed as Luigi from the Nintendo video game Super Mario, said the water was cold but that he’s already looking forward to next year.

“I’m thinking next year I’m dunking my head in,” he said.

Tinley Park police Cmdr. Bill Devine, father of a Special Olympics athlete, said the funds will go toward athletes’ uniforms, rental fees for facilities and other programs. Devine said the athletes appreciate the donations and excitement from the community.

“It shows the support of the school,” Devine said.

Jeanann Paczesny, a Special Olympics coach, said this year’s polar plunge “exploded” from last year’s event, when students and staff raised $22,000 for Special Olympics Illinois. Over the last four weeks, Paczesny said it has felt like the only thing students were talking about was the plunge.

“A lot of people have been looking forward to it. A lot of excitement and enthusiasm,” Paczesny said. “It’s bringing kids together and including them.”

Sophie Coleman, a junior, said she raised about $200 and enjoyed the event, especially as someone who wants to work in special education.

“I was really nervous, but after I jumped it was fun. It was refreshing,” Coleman said. “It means a lot to me. I love special education, and I definitely want to pursue this growing up.”

Will Thomas, a senior, said he raised about $900 by posting his fundraising page on social media and putting a collection bucket out at his work. Thomas said the event was a fun way to give back.

“The kids are all amazing so it feels good to help them out,” Thomas said.

When participating in a polar plunge, Thomas said the best advice he can give is not to think about the jump.

“Just have fun,” Thomas said. “Enjoy it.”

akukulka@chicagotribune.com