During the recent Polar Plunge in Palatine, blue and orange dominated the winter landscape.
Those are the colors of Hoffman Estates High School, which had 40 students, faculty and staff brave the icy waters of the Twin Lakes Recreation Area for the event sponsored by the Law Enforcement Torch Run.
They called themselves "Freezin' For a Reason" and in this case, the "reason" was Special Olympics. The Hawks earned awards for being the largest team on hand and the one that raised the most money, more than $14,000.
Amy Longmore, the special education teacher who led the team, credited the school's SOAR program -- Show respect, Own your actions, Accept differences and Realize your potential -- with helping to fuel the team this year.
The initiative was launched at the beginning of the school year, Longmore said, as a way to encourage students and staff to "SOAR" in a positive direction.
School officials have developed activities throughout the year that underscore each of the core values in the program. Last month, days before the Polar Plunge, they showed a video about a Hoffman Estates graduate who had blossomed because of her involvement in Special Olympics.
The eight-minute video was directed by award-winning filmmaker Martin Rodahl, a Norwegian native now living in Chicago, and produced by officials with Special Olympics Illinois.
After viewing the video, students were encouraged to write a response and assess how they treat others who might have intellectual disabilities. They also were given ways to support Special Olympians, and the Polar Plunge was one of them.
Already, the film has drawn more than 650 hits on YouTube and has been distributed throughout the state to all 18 areas of Special Olympics Illinois.
In it, viewers learn about 23-year-old Ashley Jones, who grew up participating in Special Olympics through Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 before continuing her competition on the Hoffman Estates High School team.
She now trains in gymnastics and figure skating with the Elite Stars team, based at Gymkhana in Hanover Park.
"(Ashley) likes to showcase what she can do," says her older sister, Tercera, in the video. "She loves to dance, she loves to move, she loves to pose for pictures."
Hoffman Estates students connected with Ashley as one of their own, watching her hone her floor exercise skills in gymnastics before taking to the ice under the guidance of her father, Mike, one of her coaches.
The same day the video was shown at the high school, Ashley returned to her alma mater to visit with her former teachers and to meet some of the students. Longmore said they treated Ashley as something of a celebrity.
Just four days later, they took the plunge.
"A really cool part of the day was that we had some of the Special Olympics athletes from Hoffman giving us high fives and cheering us on at the event," Longmore says. "Just when we thought we were crazy for jumping in freezing water, we were completely reminded of why we were doing this."