High School Wins Long Island Pumpkin Fling Championship

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The high school’s pumpkin-chucking team is the winner of this year’s Pumpkin Fling, Long Island's annual championship pumpkin catapult contest. The Dark Falcons took first place out of seven high school teams who competed in the Oct. 26 event at the Suffolk County Farm and Education Center in Yaphank. Participants had to construct a catapult or other mechanical propulsion device to toss a 3-to-5-pound pumpkin farther than their competitors.

Deer Park’s formidable catapult – technically classified as a trebuchet – has the power to launch the gourds more than 900 feet, and with considerable velocity. “Our pumpkin was clocked by a sheriff's radar gun at 136 mph,” said Bruce Sander, a technology teacher at the high school who serves as the Dark Falcons’ coach and catapult guru.

The 10 students on the team are a close-knit group, many of whom have worked on the catapult project with Sander, a former teacher at Robert Frost Middle School, for more than five years. When he was transferred to the high school, they followed, and the pumpkin-tossing efforts continued. “This group of students started with me in the seventh grade and built the first machine in the technology classroom, where we had to remove the doors to get it out,” explained Sander. “The students have been an integral part of our team’s success and had placed second for the past four years until this year’s competition.”

The design, construction, training and operation of the catapults serve as more than simple recreation, making math, physics and engineering concepts come to life for the participating students in a tangible and exciting way, and engendering a strong sense of teamwork and cooperation.