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Pond hockey added to to this year's Winterfest celebration

Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce employees Ashley Goettig (left) and Alicia Jensen show off the 2013 Winterfest Medallion.

WORTHINGTON -- With Christmas over and the New Year's celebration complete, people might be looking out their window in anxious anticipation of the first signs of spring. But, it's Minnesota, and we all know those signs won't be showing up anytime soon.

There's one thing you can do -- take advantage of this winter wonderland by baring your winter coat and taking the Deep Freeze Dip.

Not your style? Well, there are plenty of other activities to get your heart pumping in the great outdoors surrounding Lake Okabena this Saturday. Perhaps you'll catch the largest fish in the ice fishing tournament, or get your exercise in at the YMCA's co-ed volleyball tournament, Winterfest Warm-Up 2-mile walk/run or the all-new pond hockey tournament.

If spectatorship is more your style, well, there are plenty of opportunities to do that as well.

Winterfest officially kicks off today with the first clue of the Winterfest medallion printed in the Daily Globe. The lucky person to find the medallion will receive $100 in Chamber checks.

The bulk of the activities are on Saturday, starting with the first-ever Winterfest Pond Hockey Tournament at 8 a.m. off Lake Okabena's Centennial Beach.

Pond Hockey organizer Anthony Bui is excited to showcase the sport during this year's Winterfest celebration. Already, eight four-person teams have registered, and additional teams have until Thursday to register by contacting Bui at 360-3447 or

"I'm pretty excited," Bui said. "Hockey in this area is not a very popular sport compared to the Twin Cities or up north. I think it's a great way to promote the Worthington Hockey Association and hockey in general."

Plans are to have the snow cleared for two basketball court-sized rinks along the Centennial Beach shoreline, with ample parking in the lot next to the Beach Nook. Bui said there will be warming trailers for the players, who will play a three-on-three contest consisting of two, 12-minute halves.

Participation fees will be used to award cash prizes to the winning team, and Bui anticipates play to continue through mid-afternoon. He's still working on securing benches for spectators to be placed around the rink, and is in need of volunteers to help with set-up.

While this will be the first year for the Winterfest pond hockey tournament, Bui is already looking forward to next year.

"I would like to have a boot hockey tournament next year, too -- just to get more interest," he said. "We'd definitely like to expand and get more people involved. Hopefully, it will continue to grow."

Registration for the Southwest Minnesota Fishing Club's Winterfest ice fishing contest on Lake Okabena begins at 8 a.m. in Sunset Park, with the fishing derby taking place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Up for grabs as the grand prize this year is a Clam portable fish house, with 19 other prizes also offered to those who reel in a lunker or a little throw-back.

"Any fish can win it," said Chad Cummings of the fishing club. "We had people weighing in fish about the size of a goldfish last year. As soon as you catch one, you weigh it in."

The fishing club partners with Recycled Fish, an organization that promotes catch and release, so that the small fish weighed in can be safely released back into Lake Okabena.

The registration fee for the contest helps support the more than $2,000 in prizes to be given away. Those who don't have an ice auger may ask to have a hole drilled by a member of the fishing club. Whatever the weather, Cummings invites people out to fish, whether they do so in a hard house, a portable or by sitting on a five-gallon bucket in the open air.

Just as the fishermen put their lines in the water, the co-ed volleyball tournament will get under way at 9 a.m. the YMCA.

Also at 9 a.m., walkers and runners can begin their warm-up at the YMCA for the 2013 Winterfest Warm-Up 2-mile walk/run. Registered participants will receive a 2013 Healthy Heart Walk long-sleeve shirt and refreshments following the 9:15 a.m. race. Participants may choose to participate on the indoor track at the YMCA or on the outdoor route.

Leading up to the Deep Freeze Dip will be the crowning of Worthington's Winterfest Queen at 2:45 p.m. in Sunset Park, as jumpers get physically and psychologically ready to take their leap into the frigid waters of Lake Okabena.

Cummings said the dip is returning to its original site off the shore of Sunset Park mostly out of necessity. With the year-long drought causing approximately a two-foot drop in water levels on the lake, they needed to find an area where the dip could still be relatively close to shore yet provide a water depth of 4.5- to 5 feet.

"People can tippy-toe touch so it isn't dangerous for anybody," said Cummings, adding that emergency personnel will be standing by in their ice water rescue suits.

As of Friday, 44 jumpers had registered to take part in the Deep Freeze Dip, and more may be added. People have until the end of the day today to get registered by stopping at the RadioWorks studio on Nobles County 35, west of Worthington.

The goal of this year's Deep Freeze Dip is to raise $25,000 for the Jami Cummings Learn to Swim program. The program provides two weeks of free swimming lessons to second-graders in Nobles County.

Because of the fundraising goal, Cummings has encouraged all jumpers to raise a minimum of $250 each -- although he's well aware that some have gone far above and beyond that goal.

CJ Nelson at the YMCA has been working to collect donations at the local facility. If $10,000 is reached, YMCA executive director Andy Johnson will step up to take the Deep Freeze Dip. Meanwhile, Adrian's Jason Kellen has raised nearly $2,000.

"He's been getting some help from the Adrian teachers who have jumped the last couple of years," Cummings said. "The Adrian school has been really pleased with the Jami Cummings Learn to Swim program. It's been really neat to see the schools get involved."

This is the second year that proceeds from the Deep Freeze Dip will go to support the swim program. Cummings said the dollars earned last year had a great impact on the kids.

"It was just probably one of the most rewarding things we've done," he added.

All jumpers need to turn in their donations at the RadioWorks studio by the end of the day on Thursday.

Following the jump this year, all jumpers will be encouraged to stop by the Travelodge, where the hot tub and swimming pool will be available free of charge for them to warm up. In addition, a reception for the jumpers will be offered at 5 p.m. at the Hickory Lodge.

On Sunday, the Southwest Bowbenders will host an Evergreen Shoot in conjunction with Winterfest. The event is from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the club, 27150 Plotts Ave., Worthington. Contact Kim Lambert at 360-6406 for additional information.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

(507) 376-7330