Polar Plunge

Above, some of the more than 400 participants of Special Olympics Pennsylvania Winter Games Polar Plunge fundraising event react as they exit the water at Canoe Creek State Park in Frankstown Township, Blair County, on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020.

Laurel: More than 400 people braved the cold water at Canoe Creek State Park in Frankstown Township, Blair County, for last weekend’s Special Olympics Pennsylvania Winter Games Polar Plunge fundraiser. The plungers raised more than $122,000. “We’re just happy to come out here and support Special Olympics,” said Kyle Adams, who represented the 1st Summit Bank’s Richland Township office at the event.

Laurel: Congratulations to former Pittsburgh Steelers great Troy Polamalu, who earned a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Polamalu, who was selected in his first year of eligibility, was a four-time All-Pro, was voted to eight Pro Bowls and won two Super Bowl rings in three trips. He spent his entire career – 2003-14 – with the Steelers.

Barb: Authorities in Connecticut say a gas station employee stole $17,000 worth of cash and merchandise on his first shift before disappearing. Police say the man also took his employment folder, which contained his personal information, so the owner of the Go On Gas store doesn’t even know the worker’s name. The owner said the man got away with lottery tickets, 89 boxes of cigarettes and money.

Laurel: Hats off to Shade girls basketball coach Andy Muha, who recently won his 200th game when his Panthers held off a late rally by the Blairsville Bobcats for a 65-60 victory. “It was a huge win,” he said. “I’ve been a very blessed man to have a generation of Shade players to come through the program. I appreciate all my former players and parents. They have surely supported me throughout.”

Laurel: Spring will be arriving early this year. At least according to Punxsutawney Phil, who did not see his shadow on Sunday. Groundhog Day has its origin in a German legend that says if a furry rodent casts a shadow on Feb. 2, winter continues. If not, spring comes early.

Laurel: Cambria Elementary School in the Central Cambria School District is one of 94 out of more than 2,000 schools to be honored by the Pennsylvania Department of Education as a “Distinguished Title 1 School.” Schools receive the recognition of they have academic achievement and/or growth for the two previous academic years.

Barb: A Pennsylvania judge has been barred from hearing any cases after being accused of making racist comments about a juror. Judge Mark Tranquilli was suspended after being accused of referring to a black female juror as “Aunt Jemima” in comments he made in his chambers following the acquittal of a drug suspect last month. The Allegheny County Bar Association says it is seeking an investigation by the Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania.

Laurel: A program recently established through SaverLife, a national nonprofit, allows participants to save money and receive financial assistance. SaverLife’s incentives include a $5 reward to everybody who joins and prizes totaling $20,000 to participants who save the most money. Members will also receive access to financial coaches. In addition, money contributed between Feb. 3 and May 31 – up to $15,000 – will be matched and donated to the Cambria County Library for improvements to the children’s department.

Laurel: Irene Huschak, of Portage, recently received the Charlie Vizzini Volunteer Award for her contributions to the community. “It’s such an honor, but I do this because I just love my community,” she said. “It’s wonderful that I can give back after all they’ve given to me. It’s just an amazing honor.” Huschak designed a plan to save about 1,500 “Patton Pavers” bricks to preserve the road near the Portage Area Historical Society. She and students from Admiral Peary Area Vocational Technical School reinstalled other bricks to create Memorial Terrace last summer. Huschak also has raised money to help provide children with passes to the swimming pool at Portage Crichton McCormick Park, volunteered with the historical society, organized a ladies tea and created the town’s community yard sale.

Laurel: An Air Force veteran and well-known business owner has been tapped as the next manager of the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport. Chad Gontkovic, co-founder of Coal Tubin’, was selected from a pool of four finalists. “With his aviation experience, his background in business management ... and his connections in Johnstown, we think Chad really brings the whole package in terms of what we’re looking for right now,” said Jim Loncella, airport authority chairman.

The Tribune-Democrat’s editorial page features this laurels and barbs column looking at positive and negative news from the past week. Readers are encouraged to send suggestions to editorial@tribdem.com.

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