SEASIDE HEIGHTS — The same spirit of competition that inspires Special Olympics of New Jersey athletes will be on display for the 27th time this upcoming Saturday at the annual Polar Bear Plunge at Seaside.

While it is not an actual contest — though chairman Kevin Burke is asked on occasion why there is no prize for the person who stays in the ocean the longest — there is a battle every year to see if the fundraising amount from the previous year can be topped.

In 2019, that number was a record $2.3 million. Burke said signups have already exceeded 6,500 participants for the 2020 event, with more than $1.4 million taken in so far.

"We continue to grow, from our most humble beginnings of 72 plungers and raising $23,000, to what we anticipate this year with well over 7,000 plungers," he said.

The Polar Bear Plunge continues to be relevant not only because of the money, but also because it raises awareness of what Special Olympics New Jersey does for some 26,500 athletes across the state, plus volunteers, friends, and family members who push its impact into the hundreds of thousands.

2019 Polar Bear Plunge at Seaside Heights (Louis C. Hochman / Townsquare Media)

As the athlete population grows, so does demand for things like equipment and uniforms, but Burke said it's not just about the athletes' on-field performance. It's about seeing and helping them to thrive in school, in workplaces, and in life.

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Burke said Seaside Heights, as always, has been a willing and participatory partner. The traffic situation on event day is never a breeze, he said, but officials have tried to "choreograph this as best as possible."

2019 Polar Bear Plunge at Seaside Heights (Louis C. Hochman / Townsquare Media)

"The reception that we got from the mayor and council and the police department from the town of Seaside Heights is absolutely incredible," Burke said. "They welcome us with open arms."

If you are interested in attending but are not registering at, day-of signups start at 9 a.m. on Feb. 22, although Burke recommends getting to Seaside sooner rather than later.

He said many hotels and restaurants are already booked solid for Friday night, plus an early arrival gives participants a chance to patronize Seaside Heights businesses in the middle of a typically slow season.

New Jersey 101.5's Big Joe Henry will be returning to broadcast live from Spicy's Cantina from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email