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Nearly 500 participate in Polar Bear Plunge in Connellsville

| Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 5:42 p.m.
Lori C. Padilla | for the Daily Courier
Charter members of the Polar Bear Plunge at Yough Park in Connellsville take to the water to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the event on New Year's Day. Jamie McPoyle, one of those members first to brave the elements, makes his way out of the Youghiogheny River after completely submerging himself, to celebrate the beginning of 2014.

It was a milestone jump into the Youghiogheny River at Yough Park in Connellsville on Wednesday.

Approximately 40 of the founding members and original jumpers celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Polar Bear Plunge by running into the river 5 minutes before the rest of the nearly 500 participants.

Mike Parlak, one of the founding organizers of the event, said it has grown from just over 40 people to “10 times that.”

Parlak added, “The man responsible for all of this is Frank Jacobyansky. His and my kids and Vinny Traynor's kids were all involved in Scouts and one day Frank (Jacobyansky) brought up the idea and we decided to go with it.”

Jacobyansky said they never dreamed it would take off like it has.

“It's become a wonderful tradition in Connellsville and people expect it now,” Jacobyansky said. “It's crazy enough that people want to join in, but it's fairly safe — we haven't lost anyone yet.”

Jonathan Luczka and his dad, Philip, were two of the people who took the plunge 10 years ago after their friend, George Eutsey, dragged them along.

“It's become a father-son tradition now,” said Philip Luczka, who added that even though the duo now knows what to expect when they jump in, it's still invigorating.

“We're also a whole lot more prepared,” Philip Luczka said, pointing out the mat they brought to stand on when they came out of the river as well as extra clothes, towels and shoes.

“We will continue to keep doing this,” Philip Luczka said. “We need to keep the tradition going — not only for the community, but for the family as well.”

This is the fourth year that Kendyl Crosby and her dad, Scott, of Greensburg have come to Connellsville to participate in the New Year's Day fun.

She said that while she was nervous the first year, she gets excited about it these days.

Originally her group had just three participants, but this year a total of 10 jumped into the river.

“It's something that grows every year for us,” Crosby said.

Jacinta Ptacek of Connellsville is fairly new to the event, jumping in the last three years. Her 11-year-old son, Brady, has been jumping with her for the last two.

“It's just something that I wanted to be a part of, to start the New Year off right,” she said. “It's just neat to be able to say you did it.”

Luella Hawk first participated with her sisters four years ago after their mother died. It was a way for them to pull together.

Hawk's 7-year-old daughter, Lydia, also looks forward to taking the plunge with the group.

“It's just fun to get wet,” she said.

The event apparently has provided an opportunity for families to begin and continue a tradition.

Parlak seemed to sum it up best.

“I think you just have to have a little crazy in you to do this,” he said.

Rachel Basinger is a contributing writer.

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