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Sunset Park is headquarters for Saturday swim, hockey

WORTHINGTON -- Who cares about the January thaw? This weekend, participants in Worthington's Winterfest will concentrate on the cold, even if wind chills don't reach record lows. When you're on a frozen lake playing three-on-three pond hockey, or...

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Worthington's Sunset Park will host the Deep Freeze Dip and Pond Hockey tournament during Saturday's Winterfest. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON - Who cares about the January thaw?

This weekend, participants in Worthington’s Winterfest will concentrate on the cold, even if wind chills don’t reach record lows.

When you’re on a frozen lake playing three-on-three pond hockey, or stripping down to your bare feet for a stab at the Deep Freeze Dip, being outside in the world of white is what it’s all about.

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“I tell new jumpers that it doesn’t matter how bold or strong you are, you’ll still be chilled to the bone and in a little bit of shock for two minutes and 23 seconds,” laughed Chad Cummings, organizer of the Deep Freeze Dip for the eighth consecutive year.

“It takes your breath away when you hit the water, but it’s really exhilarating - equal to a five-hour power nap, and way safer than climbing a mountain.”

Cummings, owner and general manager of Worthington’s Radio Works, which sponsors the Deep Freeze Dip along with the Southwest Minnesota Fishing Club, knows whereof he speaks. He’s taken the freezing plunge annually - one year, he even jumped in twice - but his enthusiasm for what the annual spectacle achieves hasn’t thawed one mite.

“We have 35 people signed up for this year’s Deep Freeze Dip, and each participant has to raise at least $250 in pledges,” detailed Cummings.

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“But a lot of participants raise more than that, and we have several other businesses and individuals who donate $250 or more.”

Over the eight years of the local Deep Freeze Dips, proceeds have benefited the Southwest Minnesota Honor Flight, the Jami Cummings Learn to Swim program and the Wayne Klumper Heals project; last year, Project Lifesaver was the beneficiary, and it will be again in 2017.

“Project Lifesaver provides tracking devices free of charge to qualifying individuals who suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s or autism,” explained Cummings, adding that the Nobles County Sheriff’s Office administers the program.

“It (Project Lifesaver) really provides peace of mind for those of us who have loved ones dealing with those life-altering conditions.”

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With $15,000 in matching funds at stake ($5,000 from the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation and $10,000 from Sterling Drug), Cummings is confident donations and pledges generated by the Deep Freeze Dip are on track to meet the match. A $2,000 pledge from Worthington Federal Savings Bank is among the generous contributions supporting the cause.

“This year’s Deep Freeze Dip should raise over $30,000 - and it’s all staying right here in Nobles County,” affirmed Cummings.

But the Deep Freeze Dip is only one of the Saturday attractions likely to draw spectators to the western shores of Lake Okabena at Sunset Park.

A pond hockey tournament, largely coordinated by volunteers from the Worthington Hockey Association (WHA), will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“It’s a good way to get everyone out in nature and encourages kids to be active while playing a sport they really enjoy,” said Nai Farra, the tournament’s primary coordinator.

More than 10 people have been involved in grooming and preparing two rinks worth of lake ice for the pond hockey tournament, and as many as 20 volunteers will ultimately help keep things rolling on Saturday.

“This event requires the help of a lot of WHA members, and others have stepped forward, too,” said Farra.

Farra explained that one rink will be devoted to the pond hockey games, while the other will be set up for a skills challenge. Three trailers will be available where players can change or lace up skates.

“Kids can skate around cones and shoot pucks into the goal, and players will be judged on their speed; it’s a timed skills test,” she said.

Besides local hockey enthusiasts, the pond hockey tournament is drawing three Squirt-level teams from Sioux Center, Iowa, and one Bantam-level team from Redwood Falls.

“Pond hockey is played three-on-three, but each team can have up to four players,” she shared. “They can switch on the fly.”

The Worthington Optimist Club, Hy-Vee, Fareway, Walmart and Shopko have all generously contributed in various ways to the pond hockey tournament. For instance, free hot chocolate, cider and donuts will be available on site to tournament participants, and the Optimist Club is providing medals.

In addition, a new bubble hockey table (made possible in part by contributions from some of the above-named businesses and organizations, as well as several individual donations) is allowing a bubble hockey tournament to take place at the Worthington Arena at the conclusion of the day’s pond hockey games.

“The bubble hockey tournament is from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday,” verified Farra. “The table is brand-new this week, and we’re grateful to everyone who’s helped us get it.”

Although Farra’s younger son and his WHA Bantam teammates are passionate hockey players who eagerly anticipate Saturday’s competition opportunities, Farra stresses that the pond hockey and bubble hockey tournaments are open to everyone.

“Everyone who’s interested is welcome to participate, and we hope a lot of people will come out to watch the action,” she said.

Cummings echoed that sentiment.

“The weather looks great, and there’ll be food available to purchase from the Nobles County Cattlemen and the Frosty Riders Snowmobile Club,” Cummings said.

“It’s a fun moment for spectators, and a terrific way to celebrate winter and support events that are doing a lot of good for people in this county.”

The Deep Freeze Dip takes place at 2 p.m. Saturday near Sunset Park. The Worthington Pond Hockey Tournament runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, also near Sunset Park. The bubble hockey tournament, which is free and supervised, is set for 4 – 6 p.m. Saturday at the Worthington Arena, 1600 Stower Drive. Teams may register for the pond hockey tournament at the Worthington Arena from 5 to 8 p.m. tonight and Thursday.

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