Shaler Area students prepare to take Special Olympics Polar Plunge -

Shaler Area students prepare to take Special Olympics Polar Plunge

Sunday, February 23, 2020 | 11:00 PM

Some Shaler Area students, teachers and administrators are hoping for warm weather Feb. 28.

They are slated to participate in Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s Pittsburgh Cool Schools Polar Plunge that day at Heinz Field.

Twenty Shaler Area students will plunge into an above-ground pool to raise funds for Special Olympics Pennsylvania.

Shaler Area unified bocce team co-captain Roman Tortorea, a junior, said that he was inspired to register for the Polar Plunge following the annual Western Pennsylvania Unified Youth Summit October 2019 at Slippery Rock University.

“I’m pretty excited because I’ve never really jumped into freezing water before,” he said. “It sounds fun, though. I want to see how it goes.”

Assistant Coach Christin Pintar, a Shaler Area speech pathologist, is “petrified” to jump into the frigid pool. However, watching a Special Olympics officials’ video during the youth summit about the plunge has encouraged her to take the leap.

“He was promoting the importance of this cause, and the visibility that it brings to inclusion. And he had me so motivated that I was just ready to jump in and do it. It is important, and I think we see how it’s working here at our school; inclusion is just reaching more and more students.”

Unified bocce team co-captain Nevaeh Bartsch, also a junior, said that all of the team’s regular education students, in addition to others unaffiliated with the team, are willing to endure frosty temperatures for the Special Olympics.

“I’m a little nervous. I don’t really like water and I don’t like the cold, but I’m going to do it for the cause. I’m going to be with my friends, so we’ll jump together,” he said.

Assistant Superintendent Bryan O’Black committed to the event, “first and foremost, to support (Shaler Area’s) Special Olympics athletes.

“They work so hard throughout the entire year preparing for our bocce team, and they love the support that they receive from our community, school and parents. The monies raised go directly back into the Special Olympics programs, and our Shaler Area students will benefit greatly from the proceeds.”

The following administrators and teachers also will participate: Superintendent Sean Aiken, art teacher Brad Susa, technology education teacher Craig Wells, athletic director Clint Rauscher and School Resource Officers Frank Spiker and Brenan Jackson.

Shaler Area’s team fundraising goal is $1,500. They raised a little more than $1,000 by asking teachers to donate at least $5 to wear jeans to school Feb. 11. Team members have gained individual donations, too. Sponsor the Shaler Area team or an individual at!/donation/checkout.

According to Hailey Fuzak, Special Olympics Pennsylvania marketing and public relations manager, last year’s event raised more than $10,000. The 2020 Cool Schools Polar Plunge has raised just under $22,000 at press time, but donations are still incoming.

In addition to the plunge itself, the event will feature educational activities promoting inclusion and the chance for Shaler Area students to interact with others from 15 participating schools, Fuzak said.

“It’s nice to interact with kids from other schools to learn about them and what they’re going through. I’m supporting them in a way also by doing this, so I know that this is funding your bocce team or whatever,” Bartsch said.

“I’m looking forward to spending the day with all of our teammates and getting to know them better,” Tortorea said.

“I just do want the students to know that I am so proud of them for stepping up and being a part of this,” Pintar said. “It’s a difficult thing to do on many levels and these students are motivated and are leaders of our school and they are showing the community that they believe in inclusion and they believe in making our school a better place.”