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Connellsville's Polar Bears awaiting the New Year plunge

Connellsville's Polar Bear Club members are getting ready to take a leap into the icy waters of the Youghiogheny River in Connellsville on New Year's day.

And they're hoping the community will join them for the seventh annual jump.

The event starts at 11 a.m. at Yough River Park.

But organizers are concerned about the build-up of ice on the Yough.

"We are going to keep the schedule the same, and we will continue to monitor the ice," said organizer Bruce Jaynes.

"We may have to break everything up, and we are also looking at other locations, but it will be that day, it's all on schedule," Jaynes said.

Organizers said each year the event has experienced an increase in participants.

The first year the polar club hosted the event, 41 participated. Last year, that number reached close to 300, according to organizer Nancy Jacobyansky.

"There has been an increase every year, and we hope to continue to see that upward growth," Jacobyansky said.

Each year, participants are asked to bring a canned food item to donate to the Connellsville Community Ministries food bank and, according to Jacobyansky, this number has been growing.

"We are always the first donation for their food bank, and last year we filled an entire van," Jacobyansky said. "Not only do the people that come to jump in the river bring things, but the spectators have also been very generous and brought bags, and it's just a really nice community thing."

Anyone can participate in the New Year's day plunge -- age does not matter.

Last year the youngest participant was Nicholas Kumar, 6, of Uniontown. The oldest was Edna Prinkey, 74, of Connellsville.

Polar Bear Club member Mike Parlak said during the past seven years temperatures on event day have varied.

"The water temperature always seems to be about 36 degrees," Parlak said.

A bon fire will be started around 10 a.m., and two warming tents will be on site at the Yough River Park. Club members recommend participants wear shoes when entering the water. It's also recommended participants bring extra clothes and a towel.

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