Smashing pumpkins brought students from 16 Western New York high schools to a field in Clarence on Sunday.
The alternative rock band from Chicago that goes by that name wasn’t scheduled to be there, but the students hadn’t come for a Smashing Pumpkins concert. They were there to smash pumpkins, launching the orange orbs of autumn with catapult-like devices known as trebuchets to the delight of about 100 spectators at the Great Pumpkin Farm.
It was part of the eighth annual trebuchet competition to find out which team could throw a pumpkin the farthest in a single shot, as well as the longest combined distance in several shots, and which could hit a wood target in the shape of a castle. About $2,800 in cash prizes were up for grabs to fund technology education.
Hamburg High School won the target competition.
Pioneer Central High School, which has been in the running for the longest throw in the seven years it has been competing, outdid itself this year, launching a pumpkin 434 feet, setting a new record for the competition and winning the single-shot contest. It also won in the combined distance category, with a total of 1,202 feet.
Don Kress, who coaches the Pioneer team made up of students from his engineering seminar class, said the students made some changes to last year’s trebuchet, which helped increase the distance this year.
“We practice as much as we can, and we really wanted to win,” he said.
He said the trebuchet competition works well into his class, since it involves some complicated math and computer-assisted design in tweaking the trebuchet’s assembly.
Despite the success, Kress is planning to retire the current trebuchet and switch to “a whole new style” for next year’s competition. “We want to try something different,” he explained.
In getting ideas for a new design, he said he talked this weekend to the national adult champions from the 2012 Punkin Chunkin Competition, a team that includes a 2005 graduate of Amherst Central High School and the Rochester Institute of Technology.
The team goes by the name NASAW (North American Sliding Axle Whipper) and was demonstrating its winning device, which was built in Buffalo, during Sunday’s competition, launching pumpkins more than 2,000 feet and eliciting oohs and aahs from the crowd. “I think we have a winner for distance,” event manager Kevin Riggs said after one demonstration launch that sent a pumpkin sky high and into the woods nearby.
Jason Nichols said the NASAW trebuchet, which measures about 25 feet high at the tip of its throwing arm, was built at his father’s metal business on Niagara Street in Buffalo, Great Lakes Pressed Steel, where he works. He said it uses up to 2,000 pounds in counterweights to launch projectiles.
He said the team will seek to win the 2013 title at the national competition Nov. 1-3 in Delaware, shooting for a goal of 2,500 feet.
Unlike the national champion, the trebuchets in the high school competition are made of wood.
Most of the student team members wore hard hats Sunday, but Austin Egri of the Nichols squad was sporting a Viking helmet with horns as he kept track of the team’s trebuchet performance on his laptop computer. The senior noted that the team had been practicing for the competition by throwing 8-pound projectiles, but that smaller, lighter pumpkins were used Sunday. “So we had to make some adjustments,” he said.
Riggs explained that the event organizers had trouble finding 8-pounders this year because the crop is smaller in size.
The Nichols team came close to putting one pumpkin through the castle door in the target competition, with the pumpkin hitting the ground just in front of the opening before bouncing through. But the rules require that the pumpkin go through in the air.
Austin said the Nichols team will be back next year, probably with a new trebuchet to replace the 3-year-old model, since deterioration in the old model threw off the team’s calculations this year.