Absence of leaders unlikely to deter Port New Year’s swimmers

Although Polar Bears Club die-hards who oversaw event have stepped down, a crowd is still expected for 2 p.m. plunge
Ozaukee Press staff

While the Port Washington Polar Bears Club may have lost its leaders, there will likely be a crowd of people at Port’s south beach at 2 p.m. Sunday ready for their annual dip in frigid Lake Michigan to start the year.

“I’m still going to be there,” Brian Barber, who for years helped organizers Jon Crain and Tony Matera with the annual event, said Tuesday.

“People have been reaching out. There’s no longer an official group, but at 2 o’clock, I imaging there should be a good group of people there.”

The Polar Bears Club has always been a loosely organized group, but with concerns  about liability and a desire to spend time with their families, the organizers said last year they were giving up the mantle, Barber said.

The job entailed a few chores to ensure a smooth Polar Bear plunge — making sure there’s open water and a clear path to the lakeshore, publicizing the event, keeping a log of who has attended and making sure there’s an ambulance nearby just in case it’s needed.

Crain said last week that he hasn’t heard of anyone taking over the unofficial job of head polar bear.

“I’m assuming people are still going to jump in but I don’t know if there’s anything organized,” he said.

Barber said Fire Chief Mark Mitchell told him his department will be on hand Sunday afternoon.

“He said they enjoy it as an opportunity to train,” Barber said.

The Polar Bears have drawn huge crowds to Port’s lakefront on New Year’s Day, opting to jump into the waters of Lake Michigan, much to the delight of those watching.

Barber has been jumping in for 26 years, since he was 16.

“There have been multiple years I was not going to do it,” he said, but he always got pulled back in.

The most memorable time he was determined to quit, he said, unraveled when a girl he and his wife used to babysit for called him up two hours before the jump and said, “I’m going to do it with you.”

She had been promising to do that for years, Barber said.

“I thought ‘Noooooooo,” he said. “But that’s a hard one to say no to. I did it.”

With Sunday’s forecast predicting a high of 39 degrees, this year’s jump promises to be almost balmy compared to some years.

“We’ll see who shows up,” Barber said. “This might be our busiest one yet.”


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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