Launching more than pumpkins

Making kids read books or do math problems does not inspire them to become engineers. However, if you give them permission to blow something up, they get really excited and invest all of their energies. Below is an article about an upcoming event that I dreamed up 8 years ago and several of past students have went onto get their engineering degrees and now work as engineers and technicians. This year we are going to add smoke bombs to the pumpkins to see them sail and we are hurling Big Bird to see if he can fly on his own without public support. Regardless if the predictions are accurate or not, the kids are going to have fun and be exposed to designing, welding, creating a functional trebuchet. These core skill sets can launch their career in engineering. Read more below: ASHEBORO – Who will win the election? Only the pumpkins really know. A pumpkin chunking with siege artillery from the Middle Ages, a trebuchet, will be held on Thursday, Nov. 1, at 1 p.m. to predict which candidates’ pumpkin heads will win or lose. The catapulting event will wrap up with Big Bird having his chance to see if he can fly on his own or continue to need public support. The Courier-Tribune Pumpkin Chunking Poll will be held in a grassy field behind Cox’s Harley-Davidson, 2795 N.C. 134, about five miles south of Asheboro off U.S. 220 Bypass. The event will probably last about an hour; it’s free and open to the public. Everyone is encouraged to bring a lawn chair. Cameras are welcome. The results will be announced in The Courier-Tribune and on How the heads compare to the actual election will be announced on Nov. 7. Students from Concord and Randleman high schools will be participating in the event, which qualifies as a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) project. Art classes from Randleman and Concord high schools will paint faces of selected political candidates on pie pumpkins which range in size from 3 1/4 to 4 pounds. Each race will have pumpkin heads which weigh the same, keeping the event “fair and balanced.” Students will learn to paint portraits on a sphere and learn a little about the political process. The contingent that will be bringing the trebuchet from Concord High School is composed of students from the N.C. High School Fire Fighter Training Program and the Junior Engineering and Technological Society (JETS). The curriculum includes drafting, architecture, engineering and technology. There are seven such programs in North Carolina, with only Rockingham County and West Montgomery high schools in the Piedmont Triad. The adviser for the JETS club is a Medieval enthusiast who will be donning period dress — chainmail and broad sword. Students from the Fire Academy will also be in appropriate attire for the event. Fire and physics instructor Dave Barlow led his class into the pumpkin campaign in 2004 in Statesville, when the Crossroads Pumpkin Fest included a pumpkin chunking competition which was attended by clubs and schools from Mecklenburg to Caldwell counties. Pumpkins sailed a couple hundred feet before splattering. The John Edwards pumpkin misfired, plopping only 10 feet away. Some termed it electile dysfunction. In 2004, the event was dubbed The Great Heads of Statesville Exit Poll — as pumpkins “exited” the catapult sling. After the election was over, organizers announced the exit poll had garnered an 80 percent accuracy, ranking among the highest in the nation. The story was picked up by The Associated Press, NBC Nightly News and the L.A. Times. In 2008, Dr. Doug Knight, with Mitchell Community College in Statesville, took his physics class to the trebuchet field in a downpour. Only the Kay Hagan pumpkin head correctly won. The failure of the pumpkin heads led organizers to blame the dampening of the economy and the hanging chads for the poor results. Knight’s team participated in the Crossroads Pumpkin Fest competition with other area clubs and schools. Again, the event made national news on CBS, NBC and Fox. In 2012, the event has moved to Asheboro. Barlow agreed to bring his students in their regalia and the trebuchet. Newspaper Publisher Diane Winnemuller quickly agreed to provide The Courier-Tribune as the media sponsor and Cox’s Harley-Davidson made arrangements for the students to use a field adjacent to their store. If the pumpkins fly as they have in the past, some will veer to the far right, others to the far left. Some will ride the middle of the road while others will sail to the right and then land on the left — and visa versa. Some heads will splatter; some will roll. It begs the question — how true to their conservative or liberal roots are they? Organizers this year are going to hurl the presidential and vice-presidential heads first to see if there is a coat-tail effect with congressional, gubernatorial, legislative and judicial seats. For more information, visit The Courier-Tribune Pumpkin Chunking Poll on Facebook or visit