By Greg Ellison
(Nov. 21, 2019) Because New Year’s Day falls on a Wednesday next year and fewer visitors are likely to travel to the resort for a mid-week holiday, organizers of the Atlantic General Hospital Foundation’s annual Jan. 1 Penguin Swim hope to bolster the event’s ranks with more local participants.
OPA Clubs Committee Chairman Gary Miller, who is also a member of the OC Ravens Roost #44 penguin swim team, said the Wednesday date of the fundraiser could mean fewer participants from out of town.
“What we’re trying to do is get more teams involved,” he said.
Miller, who has taken the icy dip for the last dozen years, encouraged residents from Ocean Pines and elsewhere to register individually or gather friends and family for a team effort, with pre-event registration available online at aghpenguinswim.org or in-person the day of, or evening prior, to the event which originates from the Princess Royale on 91st Street.
Kam LaBrunda, AGH Foundation development coordinator, said weather conditions, in addition to calendar alignments, can negatively affect turnout for the New Year’s Day shindig, which under optimal conditions has peaked at more than 1,000 water-braving souls.
“In 2018, Monday, was the year it was really cold and we had about 420 participants,” she said. “Last year it was a Tuesday … it was warm and we had about 650 participants.”
By comparison, LaBrunda said in 2016, when the year debuted on a Friday, a record draw occurred.
“Our most participants were in 2016 … and that was 1,035 people,” she said.
Miller said the OC Ravens Roost, which was the top earning community team in 2019, has raised over $120,000 in total over the last 10-plus years.
“There’s a lot of different ways money is raised,” he said.
For example, Miller said the Ravens Roost recently held a “guest bartender night” at the Ocean Pines Yacht Club to solicit funds in advance of the event.
Miller also said outside partners have lent backing, such as Capt. Joe Crocetti with the Shrimp Boat in West Ocean City.
“He held an AGH appreciation day two weeks ago and a percentage of funds were donated to the penguin swim,” he said.
While registration is available up until the event, Miller said anyone contemplating jumping into the fray, or water, especially those forming a team, should do so sooner than later.
“The earlier teams can get formed, the longer team members have to hold fundraising events and send out letters to family and friends,” he said.
Registration can be done online and includes a $25 per-swimmer fee, with all participants receiving a commemorative T-shirt. Pre-registration by Dec. 1 guarantees size selections.
“We’re also trying to get athletic teams at different schools to participate,” he said.
LaBrunda said the last penguin swim to occur on a Wednesday drew about 650 attendees.
“That’s pretty much what we are expecting” she said.
Now in its 26th year, the annual dip has raised more than $1.4 million to support the AGH Foundation.
Of that sum, LaBrunda said roughly $600,000 has been generated through the efforts of Bull on the Beach, 94th Street, and sister restaurant Crab Alley in West Ocean City.
“They have events throughout the year, [including a] golf tournament [plus] bull roast and crab feast,” she said.
Regardless of the precise dollar total raised, LaBrunda said the event includes numerous contests and inside activities to add entertainment value to the New Year’s Day charity endeavor.
“We do a costume contest [and] maybe half show up in costumes,” she said. “They don’t all register for the contest but they definitely show up.”
LaBrunda said day of registration, the only option for costume entries, takes place at the atrium in the Princess Royale, with pre-registration and advanced check in on New Year’s Eve from 2-4 p.m.
“Also in the atrium … we have carnival games for kids and families to stay occupied while waiting for even,” she said.
LaBrunda said the roughly half dozen children’s games also help raise funds, with tickets running a dollar per pair.
“Kids can win prizes like stuffed animals,” she said.
Win, place and show trophies are awarded to the top three fundraising totals for youth and adult categories, in addition to team hauls.
Despite the penguin “swim” theme, Miller said full submersion is not required.
“People don’t have to get their whole body into the water,” he said. “All you’ve got to do is get your feet wet.”
“We definitely get more participants when it’s warmer,” LaBrunda added. “Toes count [and] you don’t have to go all the way in.”