Pumpkin Program Sets Record at Catapult Competition

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The high school’s catapult team has once again proven itself the best, competing and winning with their machine, named Jack-O-Splatter, at two recent championship pumpkin catapult contests. The victories were the latest in more than a dozen years of successful pumpkin flinging for the program, which builds on foundational engineering concepts.

“Doing this gives students the opportunity to use STEM to experience the joys and trials of designing, building and operating a sophisticated mechanical device that can be used in competition to see how far your team can propel a pumpkin in the air,” said the team’s coach, Ken Phalen. “It’s a fun project that motivates the students, wraps education in fun, and builds teamwork and life skills. What better way to spark the interest and imagination of youth?”

At the team’s previous 2012 trip to compete at the Last Fling Pumpkin Sling competition at the Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, Islip set a record and garnered the grand champion trophy. This year, for the first time, Islip’s catapult team broke the 1,200-foot mark with their best throw of 1,291.7 feet, earning them first place at Last Fling in their category.

Next up was the Pumpkin Fling, Long Island’s annual contest held at the Suffolk County Farm and Education Center in Yaphank on Oct. 24, where Islip were reigning champions. Islip was one of the only original teams remaining from the competition’s inaugural event in 2003, breaking records during 11 of those 13 years, and the school held the then-current Long Island record of 1,049.9 feet. In this year’s event, they obliterated their previous record, capturing first place again with a remarkable divisional world-record distance toss of 1,327 feet, more than a quarter of a mile and equal to 4½ football fields placed end to end.

“Our team is always ready to compete and up for new challenges and setting new goals,” said Phalen. “In this case, the pumpkin literally soared out of sight at a speed exceeding 160 mph. It went so far that it cleared a tree line that was always thought of as a backdrop for the event. It took 20 minutes to find the remains of the pumpkin burrowed in the ground from the impact.”

Islip’s high school team, coached by Phalen and assisted by Dave Maziarz, was comprised of captains Justin Feiler, Ryan Maziarz and Steven Walis; their fellow seniors Dan Croteau, Andrew Ginnegar and Sam Meyer; junior Robert Phalen; and sophomores Max Kurka, Kyle Maziarz, Ben Meyer, Jack Needham and Kyle Ness.

The middle school pumpkin catapult team, coached by technology teacher Dave Claps, also competed at the Long Island Pumpkin Fling and took first place in the middle school division, achieving distances of 568, 634 and 593 feet with their Chunk-alicious machine. The team consisted of captain Molly Breakstone and fellow eighth-graders Justin Magri; Bradley Price and Noelle Richard; seventh-graders Shannen Brody, Emylee Cruz and Widkensley Fleurlein; and sixth-graders Jillian Ally and Genna Schifter.

Prior improvements to the high school team’s catapult, Jack-O-Splatter, were made possible by materials provided by Gershow Recycling and new springs donated by General Doors Corporation. The catapult is now in need of significant repair, so please contact the district if you are interested in donating to support rebuilding Jack-O-Splatter so it can rise again for next year’s competitions.