Special Olympics Illinois Heartland/Area 6 lost a key volunteer for the Bloomington Polar Plunge on April 24 when Tom Herrell died unexpectedly.
Herrell, known to his friends as Harry, was a certified SCUBA diver, master SCUBA instructor and had served as chief safety officer at the Plunge since it began at Bloomington’s Miller Park in 2007.
“Harry was an invaluable part of our Plunge safety crew,” said Jill Speer, Heartland/Area 6 Director. “He and his crew would comb the beach and entry to the lake to remove rocks, trash or anything that could potentially injure a Plunger. He took safety very seriously.”
Not only did Herrell, 55, ensure a safe experience for all Polar Plungers, he also recruited his friends to take part in the annual fundraiser.
Tom Herrell (second from right) with other members of safety crew at Bloomington Polar Pl;unge
Mike Svob, general manager of Schooner’s restaurant in Bloomington, said he and Herrell had been friends for a long time and “he just brought it (the Polar Plunge) up one day. He said, ‘You ought to do it,’ in the presence of a few people,” Svob remembered. “He kinda shamed me into doing it the first time,” he said with a chuckle.
Svob has plunged at least four years, raising more than $13,000 during that time by selling “Polar Bucks” at the restaurant, and he has recruited other staff members to join him.
Herrell “was a regular guy around here,” Svob said. “He was real nice – a generous guy.”
Dick Smith, owner of Midwest Diving Specialist, had known Herrell for more than 30 years and said his friend had “a great passion and love of diving in the Midwest. SCUBA was his life.”
Smith has pledged to continue his friend’s commitment to water safety at the Polar Plunge. “We will be there for you in the future,” he said.
“It won’t be the same without him,” Speer said. “Next year will be a tribute to him. I am not sure what we will do, but my committee will help me come up with something fitting. He is leaving some big shoes to fill, but I know the Midwest divers won’t let us down – they are a great group of people and will make sure our Plunge waters are safe.”
By Michele Evans Henson, Director of Communications
NORMAL, Ill. – Special Olympics Illinois crowned its state champions at the State Basketball Tournament March 15-17 at Illinois State University’s Horton Field House, Normal, and Illinois Wesleyan University’s Shirk Center, Bloomington. More than 1,600 athletes competed on 136 teams and in individual skills competition at the tournament. View results.
Athletes participated in five categories of play and were divisioned within each category based on their age and skill level:
- Senior/Male: 62 teams including at least one male player 16 years or older
- Female: 23 all-female teams with players 16 years or older
- High School: 34 teams with players of high school age
- Junior: 17 teams including male and female players under the age of 16
- Individual Skills: About 265 athletes tested their abilities in dribbling, passing and shooting
- Young Athletes: 11 Young Athletes aged 6-7 demonstrated their individual skills abilities
To compete in the state tournament, athletes must have completed eight weeks of training. Senior/Male and High School teams qualified through district tournaments in the state.
As Official Partners of Special Olympics Illinois, the Illinois Knights of Columbus and the Law Enforcement Torch Run were Gold Medal Sponsors of the Basketball Tournament. Special Olympics Illinois is honored to partner with the Shirk Family Foundation in delivering our annual State Basketball Tournament.
Special Olympics Illinois is a not-for-profit organization offering year-round training and competition in 19 sports for more than 21,300 athletes with intellectual disabilities and nearly 13,000 Young Athletes ages 2-7 with and without intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics changes lives by empowering people with intellectual disabilities to realize their full potential in sports and in life. Special Olympics programs enhance physical fitness, motor skills, self-confidence, social skills and encourage family and community support. If you are interested in learning more about Special Olympics Illinois, volunteering or providing financial support to help make Special Olympics programs possible, contact your local Special Olympics agency or call 800-394-0562.
Barbara DiGuido, 630-942-5610
Michele Henson, 309-888-2573