Pennsylvania’s most famous groundhog predicted an early spring this year, and Pittsburgh’s most famous Hogs couldn’t agree more.
While good ole’ Phil merely had to look for his shadow, Pitts-Burrrrgh’s Drowned Hogs had a much greater feat to endure to make their forecasts. Approximately 50 adventurers took the plunge and dove into the Mon River on Saturday morning, where it was their frolicking that both gauged the coming of spring and generated money for a great cause.
Since the annual event’s beginning in Pittsburgh eight years ago, daring and philanthropic souls alike have convened in late-January or early-February to jump into the river and raise funds for Circle C Youth and Family Services (“Circle C”).
Circle C provides group home, supervised independent living and foster home services to at-risk youth, many of whom have been involved in long CYF cases, and helps prepare teens and young adults, ages 16 to 21, for grown-up life as they age out of the system.
Circle C also provides something for the Drowned Hog event – the “official mayor of Hogville.” Dressed in mayoral garb, Circle C’s executive director, Rich Knouff, emcees the event each year with “Head Hog” Al Bollinger.
Mr. Bollinger is the guy who brought the Hogs to Pittsburgh in the first place, after co-parenting the first Drowned Hogs dive near Boston, Mass., in 1996, when he and five friends jumped into the ocean to assist Phil in his predication, raising $50 to donate to a local charity.
Though Mr. Bollinger left the original Drowned Hogs in 2005, the Drowned Hogs never left him. He carried the spirit of the group back to his hometown (Pittsburgh) and started his own chapter of the group, calling Pitts-Burrrrghers to the boat launch on 18th Street in the South Side at the same time his cohorts gather outside of Boston.
“The folks in Boston will go in at noon, just like us,” Mr. Bollinger said, “and both teams will be raising money for local charities.”
About teaming up with Circle C in particular, Mr. Bollinger said, “I wanted to pick a charity that serves the area (where the divers dive) and puts the money right back into the community.”
According to Barb Ginsburg, resource manager at Circle C, the Drowned Hogs put approximately $11,000 back into the community last year, through registration fees and pledges. Ms. Ginsburg said she anticipates a similar return for 2013.
Mr. Bollinger said he’s hoping to raise even more this year, and in years to come, to match or exceed the $35,000 his Boston friends typically produce per annum.
This year’s divers braved 16 degree weather, and a water temperature of 33 degrees, to bring much-needed funds to Circle C.
So… What exactly does one do to prepare for such an event?
“Nothing,” said Frank Nelson, diving coach at Franklin Regional, who has been involved with similar events for 48 years.
“If you had to prepare for it, why would you do it? It’s all for the sake of lunacy and raising money for charity. There’s nothing you need to do to prepare for that.”
For those who needed a bit more preparation than Coach Nelson, Mari Murphy, aka “Monongahela Mari,” ran around dressed as a groundhog, encouraging aerobic exercise and the spread of cheer. For even more warmth, hot beverages, donuts and heating lamps were provided in tents, which were set up and taken down by Pittsburgh Citiparks.
Also integral to the preparation process were the city’s firemen and Department of Public Works, who provided an ambulance, River Rescue boat and agents to monitor the boat launch and tackle any potential problems.
Following the dive, even more sponsors showed their support. A “Hog Wash” was provided by MasterShield, running warm water over participants who wanted to wash away the chill. Inter Mission Lounge served as the venue for a post-dive party, featuring food donations from Piper’s Pub, Krazy Dogz and the Italian Bread Place.
Other donors included magician Weird Eric, who entertained the young and the young-at-heart by making balloon animals and telling tales of his magic tricks.
For more information on Circle C, including ways you can support its work with or without taking next year’s dive, check out http://www.circlec.net.