This time of year is always a great reminder of just how lucky Special Olympics Wisconsin is to have the supporters it does.
Not only do thousands of them do the unthinkable and throw themselves into icy water as a show of support for our athletes, but they also raise a ton of money that’s critical to providing the programming the athletes have come to expect from Special Olympics Wisconsin.
Even more remarkable? A fair amount of teams keep coming back year after year, raising some incredible amounts for the Polar Plunge in the meantime. One of those fundraising powerhouse teams that has emerged in the last few years is a high school team that participates in the Madison Polar Plunge.
Columbus High School takes fundraising to new heights
The students of Columbus High School’s Unified Champion School club have mastered the art of fundraising. For the 2018 Polar Plunge, they outpaced all other schools plunging by a considerable margin when they raised an incredible $17,000.
“I just noticed this entire community. It just clicked for me at that second where all these people, they were all there for one mission and that was built on friendship… They really became my family at that point.” – Columbus junior Cale Denk on what attracted him to the Unified Champion School club
They even raised so much money, their principal had to take the Plunge with the team after they had made a friendly wager about if they would meet their ambitious fundraising goal. But for 2019, the high-achieving Columbus crew has upped the ante, now aiming for $20,000 for the Madison Plunge taking place on February 16. They may be on track to exceed the goal too, with nearly $14,000 already raised and more than two weeks remaining until the Plunge.
As you might imagine, the students have had to get quite creative and strategic with finding ways to fundraise. Over the last few years, they’ve done bake sales, held raffles, gone door to door, approached businesses, organized miracle minutes at school basketball games, and held Culver’s Nights. Last week, they even used a snow day to shovel driveways and sidewalks for donations.
Columbus’ culture makes it fun
But putting in all this hard work isn’t so hard for the students at Columbus because of the friendships that the club fosters. Junior Cale Denk noticed this very early in his exposure to the club. “I just noticed this entire community. It just clicked for me at that second where all these people, they were all there for one mission and that was built on friendship… They really became my family at that point,” Denk said.
The cohesion and leadership displayed by the club doesn’t come as a surprise to their principal. Although he ultimately had to take the plunge thanks to the club’s impressive fundraising skills, Principal Jake Ekern knows a group of successful students when he sees one.
“Inclusion is important to me because I think it’s really important in schools that everybody has a friend, and everybody has somebody to talk to.” – Columbus senior Emma Weirough
“Here, with the Project Unify (Unified Champion Schools), you see freshmen, and sophomores, and juniors doing a lot of things that you don’t normally see freshmen, sophomores and juniors doing. They are the leaders. They are the ones taking the reins,” he said last year after the school’s assembly to celebrate the club’s efforts. “It (the UCS club) is all about getting kids involved, all about including people. I’ve been at a number of different schools… and I’ve just never seen anything like it.”
Cool Schools Rebate rewards Columbus for their hard work
The school assembly also gave Special Olympics Wisconsin staff an opportunity to present the club with a sizable check. Unified Champion Schools who take the Plunge receive a 25% rebate to put toward promoting inclusion in their schools. Some of the club’s ideas for using their considerable rebate money include purchasing adaptive equipment for Unified physical education, hosting Unified events for nearby UCS schools and Special Olympics athletes, hiring a guest speaker to talk to the school about the importance and impact of an inclusive school culture, and maybe even a creating a mural that commemorates these past two years of epic fundraising. Whatever the money ultimately goes toward, the students are happy to be leaving a legacy of inclusion at Columbus and beyond.
“Inclusion is important to me because I think it’s really important in schools that everybody has a friend, and everybody has somebody to talk to. So, raising money is really important to me so it can give all the athletes an opportunity to do Special Olympics,” said senior Emma Weirough.
Indeed, athletes wouldn’t have many of the opportunities they have through Special Olympics Wisconsin without incredible people like Emma and her friends at Columbus High. So on behalf of Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes, thank you Columbus!
Learn more about how your school can become a Unified Champion School by visit our UCS page.