TIFTON — A handful of Tiftonites went down the slide at the Tiftarea YMCA pool and into chilly waters Jan. 1. The group was there for a good cause, the annual Polar Bear Plunge.

The Polar Bear Plunge, which turned acts of bravery into acts of charity a decade ago, raises money for local non-profit organizations.

Jason Bishoff, interim director of the Tiftarea YMCA, and one of those sliding in sub-50-degree temperature, was emcee for the event. Before the contestants climbed the steps to the slide, Bishoff paid tribute to the late Rick Hawkins, a longtime part of the Tiftarea YMCA.

“This Polar Bear Plunge was his heart,” said Bishoff. “He loved this every year.” A banner to honor Hawkins was placed by the entrance to the pool used for the event.

Ten different organizations were benefitted by the Polar Bear Plunge. Together, everyone raised a total of $14,543. The top four earners, along with their organizations represented, were: Dr. Bret Wagenhorst (Meals on Wheels), $5,480; Andy Ring (Called to Care), $2,346; Bishoff (Tiftarea YMCA), $1,345 and Wingate Whitley (Patticake House), $1,875.

After the event, Wagenhorst said he was thrilled to be first. He joked that as an ophthalmologist, it was only appropriate for him to win in 2020.

As the top earner, Meals on Wheels will get 100% of the proceeds. The rest of the charities got 50% of the proceeds, provided their representative took the plunge down the slide.

The rest of the contestants and organizations were Andrew Marzen (Tift County Foundation for Educational Excellence), Heather Johnson (Soup Kitchen), Mike Beeman (Ruth’s Cottage), Clint Hurst (Urban Elevation), Paul Horst (Tiftarea Greenway Association) and Todd Garner (H-3 Center).

Perhaps buoyed by Beeman’s Happy New Year top hat a year ago, costumes were more varied for the 2020 dip. Marzen wore a pink tutu. Stephen Rakestraw arrived in a reindeer onesie. Bishoff had Santa Claus pants and Johnson donned an apron. Not to be outdone, Beeman added festive sunglasses to go along with the hat.

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