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Teams put new spin on Halloween at annual trebuchet contest

When most people think about October, the first thing that comes to mind is Halloween: costumes, scarecrows and trick-or-treating.

However, the Great Pumpkin Farm takes October to a whole new level.

Every year since 2005, the Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence has hosted a trebuchet contest for the high schools in Western New York. This year’s contest took place Oct. 16.

Defined as a type of siege engine most frequently used during the Middle Ages, a trebuchet is a fancy catapult. The goal of the contest is to see which high school can design the best trebuchet for launching pumpkins. This year, 13 schools signed up to take part in the two-day event.

While it seems fairly simple and straightforward, significant time and effort goes into designing the perfect catapult; Williamsville South High School’s Science Club spends weeks preparing for the contest.

For South’s seventh straight year, Mr. Jason Farrell and Mr. Jeffrey Yap, two of South’s science and technology teachers, worked with Science Club to ensure that everything ran smoothly. With their experience, they say they have developed a solid game plan that helps the team succeed.

Each year at the contest, the two teachers keep track of what works well and what needs to be improved upon, and they use these notes to adjust the trebuchet the following year. South is currently on its third catapult design.

At each club meeting, the students work with trial and error to narrow down the unknown variables. There are many things that could go wrong at the contest. So South’s goal is to make those errors as infrequent as possible, especially since the winning school gets a trophy and a monetary prize.

Building a trebuchet is not a cheap job, and Science Club is a completely self-sufficient organization at South. They receive no financial aid from the administration or the school district, so doing well in a contest like this is very important.

On the day of the contest, each school competes in two "challenges": distance and target. Teams first launch a pumpkin to see how far it can go; many schools reach as far as 400 feet.

Waiting in the field are three to five judges who measure the distance of each catapult.

The next phase of the competition to "storm the castle": each team must aim its pumpkin for a target designed as a castle. Each school has three tries to hit this target.

The target portion is definitely the more difficult part of the contest. Most years, only a couple teams manage to hit the target.

At the end of the day, distances are added up and prizes are awarded accordingly. There are three categories: Highest Combined Shot, Highest Single Shot, and Storming the Castle.

This year, Depew High School’s team dominated the competition. Williamsville South did not place in the top three, but its team had a school record for a single shot.

The contest is really cool to watch, especially when one’s school is competing.

Students, advisers, and the workers at the pumpkin farm spend a great deal of time and effort to make this contest happen.

Next fall, when you are thinking of fun activities to do, add the trebuchet contest to your list.

Maureen O’Malley is a junior at Williamsville South High School.

 

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