Nearly 20 players from St. Rita’s junior-varsity and varsity hockey teams recently took a “polar plunge” into frigid Lake Michigan to benefit Special Olympics Chicago, in large part due to the efforts of St. Rita hockey player Scott Knusta.
Knusta, 16, of Chicago, was instrumental in getting his teammates off the ice and into the icy water.
“It’s just for a great cause, and it helps out so much,” Knusta said. “I want kids that have special needs to be able to participate in things that I can participate in.”
Knusta said he and three friends became plungers after having a memorable experience at the Chicago Polar Plunge in his freshman year.
“We had a blast,” Knusta said of their time in 2011 earning service hours, a mandate for all St. Rita High School students.
As volunteers, Knusta and his friends helped wherever needed during the event, but they realized they could do even more through fundraising.
“We totally thought of ... doing (the Chicago Polar Plunge) the next year, and we did,” Knusta said.
The efforts of Knusta and six friends in 2012 yielded about $1,000.
“We just had tons of fun, and the atmosphere was great,” Knusta said.
Kathy Knusta said her son “got the fever” and wanted to raise even more money in 2013. With the blessing of head hockey coach Brian Coleman, Knusta got members of the junior-varsity and varsity St. Rita hockey teams on board.
Taking their fundraising efforts to a new level, 20 plungers — 18 hockey players, one player’s dad, and a former player, Conor Alfirevic — raised $7,175 for Special Olympics Chicago.
Although the Special Olympics is Knusta’s charity of choice, the Polar Plunge is not the only event at which he has volunteered. Knusta has earned service hours at other Special Olympics Chicago events such as the Chi-Town Race and The Electric Run.
But it was the very first event, when he was an eighth-grader at Bridgeport Catholic Academy, that got him hooked, Knusta said, as special-needs students visited his school and interacted with the students.
“It’s just great seeing all the smiles on the kids’ faces,” Knusta said. “Watching them have fun was just great.”