The hobby of “punkin chunkin,” which involves launching pumpkins through mechanical means, emerged in 1986 after four men were squabbling over who could hurl a pumpkin the farthest.
The competition evolved into a series of contests using different devices to throw pumpkins, including slingshots, catapults, centrifugals, trebuchets and pneumatic air cannons.
The world record goes to a pneumatic air cannon that fired a pumpkin 5,556.43 feet.
The annual Punkin Chunkin World Championships broadcast on the Science Channel earlier this month drew more than 20,000 people. It’s set to air on the Discovery and Science channels at 5 p.m. Thursday.
The splattering of orange chunks across Victor Valley College's soccer field had hundreds of students cheering Friday as Excelsior charter school debuted its first annual Punkin Chunkin contest.
Eight teams of students from three local schools lined up behind their self-made catapults and trebuchets — popular siege devices during medieval warfare — and took turns seeing whose device could hurl 1-pound to 8-pound pumpkins the farthest.
Excelsior’s “Nightmare” team outperformed all competitors, chucking a pumpkin about the length of a football field, at 102 yards. The second-place team, Victor Valley High School’s “Big Daddy,” threw a pumpkin 54 yards.
The Nightmare team’s six students had toiled up to six hours a day over the past few weeks constructing their trebuchets.
“You do your homework when it’s fun,” Chris Burkhart, 17, said.
The local event, based on the youth rules of the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association, aims to use project-based learning to promote what’s known in the education community as STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math.
Excelsior spokesman Derek King said the contest pushes students beyond merely learning concepts and drives them to think critically to bring plans to fruition.
“When I talk to engineering companies, what they’re seeing is they have the design portion but they’re missing the fabrication portion,” King said.
Most students started by designing a model and then scaling it up to size. Some found design plans online, some got help from their instructors or other adults and some worked from scratch.
Some models were built out of wood and some out of steel, with many variations on techniques used to propel the device into action.
Excelsior senior Kenneth Deal said his “Decimator” team was the only one to use a spring to launch a catapult, using some garage parts donated by a mechanic. Deal said the competition was a great way to teach students outside a classroom setting.
“You learn everything — physics, engineering, construction,” he said.
Excelsior student Shane Souter, 18, said he learned a lot about teamwork, and Burkhart said he learned the meaning of “never give up.”
“We almost had a couple of times where we ran into a barrier that we couldn’t figure out,” Burkhart said, such as trying to find a long enough metal arm for the trebuchet’s base.
Seventh-graders from Lakeview Middle School, the only non-high school competitor, created the smallest trebuchet at just a few feet tall, whereas another team’s device stood about 20 feet high.
Lakeview team leader Joseph Hunt said preparing for the contest was a great motivator to study.
“Instead of just learning it, you actually get to make one and know how it works,” Hunt, 12, said.
Lakeview science teacher Brenda Guillens said her students are eager to get to work building a larger trebuchet to rival high school teams in 2012.
“They’re beginning to figure out the mechanics behind it, the engineering, and then the excitement of just getting to throw stuff,” Guillens said. “We’re going to come back next year and we’re going big.”
Natasha Lindstrom may be reached at (760) 951-6232 or at NLindstrom@VVDailyPress.com.
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