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With the weather looking like it might finally turn to a normal, chilly January just in time, the 24th annual Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge should again live up to its unofficial motto — “Freezin’ For a Reason.”

The event, which raises money for Special Olympics Maryland and its 8,033-plus athletes, kicks off Thursday at Sandy Point State Park with the Cool Schools plunge. Hundreds of students from Maryland and nearby schools will make the quick, squealing dash into, and out of, the frigid waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

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That will be followed Friday with the police and corporate plunges, then the big event on Saturday.

It’s not too late to sign up for the cause. The Maryland Plunge Saturday features a rolling series of plunges on the hour every hour between 11 a.m. and 4 pm.

Even if you are not taking a dip you can have fun at Plungefest with food, beverages, vendors and a three-band lineup featuring 3OH!3, Johnny Bling, and Hot Tub Limo in the Rams Head Ice Lodge.

All told over 7,000 plungers had signed up by Wednesday for the three days of plunging, and organizers expect to have a total of 10,000 hearty souls do the deed this year.

“We have already raised $1.2 million of our $3 million goal,” plunge spokeswoman Kira Northrop said.

The sturdiest (craziest?) of those dipping into the cold waters are the Super Plungers, who raise $10,000 each and hit the water every hour, on the hour from 10 a.m. next Friday to 10 a.m. Saturday.

South River High special education teacher Mary Kokosko will be a Super Plunger for the eighth, and final, time this year.

“I am going to leave that to folks crazier than me. I am getting up there and it’s starting to take its toll,” she said. “It will be a little bittersweet this year, but next year I’ll watch coverage from my warm bed.”

While pushing herself to do the Super Plunger feat she has also led South River High School’s Snohawks team the top Cool School team for several years running.

“We are pretty relentless and we are not giving up that top spot. We’ll do whatever it takes,” Kokosko said.

Some 10 days before the Cool School plunge the SnoHawks had raised just over $24,000, about half of their $50,000 goal.

Donations typically come in late. In fact, the team reached its goal during its plunge last year.

Of all the Maryland schools participating, Anne Arundel County had the top five leading fundraisers with little more than a week left:- South River High, Central Middle, Southern Middle, Magothy River Middle and Southern High.

The Police Plunge has scores of police, firefighter, first responder and military teams at the ready. Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County and Annapolis police teams were leading the fundraiser tote board for teams that will take the plunge Friday. That is outside of the dozens of first responders in full wetsuits who form a safety phalanx some 30 yards from shore for each of the plunge events.

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The Corporate Plunge hits the water after the Police Plunge on Friday. So far, the Merritt Cos., with holdings in construction, real estate management and health clubs, leads the corporate fundraising effort.

Saturday is the big day with thousands of people not included in the earlier team plunges taking a dip for the cause.

But if you want to be counted among those who bared mostly all for the cause it’s not too late.

You can get in on the action in two ways. Sign up and start fundraising or pay a flat $75 fee for the frigid honor.

And the surrounding festival is not just for those getting wet. There is plenty to do other than cheer on those freezin’ for a reason.

Admission is free on Saturday if you coming to cheer on a plunger or coming for the party. If you want to watch the plunge from the beach, however, you will need to sign a waiver form and turn it in to get a special spectator wrist band.

Ice Lodge Experience upgrade tickets, at $45, get access to the front stage VIP area, reserved parking in the yellow lot, 2 drinks, private bar, and private bathroom. All proceeds go to Special Olympics Maryland.

The Plungefest layout has been altered this year because of construction at Sandy Point. Check-in, for instance, will be in the parking lot.

Polar Bear Plunge

WHAT: The Maryland State Police Plunge and Plungefest

WHERE: Sandy Point State Park, 1100 E. College Parkway, Annapolis

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 25.

ADMISSION: Free, except for Ice Lodge Experience upgrade, $45.

PARKING: Onsite parking sales expired Dec. 31. Though some remaining parking passed could be available at Package Pickup. Otherwise use the free shuttles from Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, Anne Arundel Community College or Kent Island High School.

MORE INFO: Go to plungemd.com or call 410-242-1515.

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