Fun, learning at Long Island Pumpkin Fling

Cornell Cooperative Extension put on the 10th-annual Pumpkin Fling at Suffolk County Farm and Education Center in Yaphank. Teams made up of middle and high school students compete in creating catapults and using physics, engineering and technology to fling pumpkins as far as they can and to hit targets. Videojournalist: Brittany Wait (Oct. 27, 2012)

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Handmade catapult machines hurled one small pumpkin after another high into the sky, splattering them into an open field, much to the enjoyment of participants.

"I just wanted to see pumpkins explode," said Dylan Seara, 12, a newcomer to Long Island Pumpkin Fling. "I wanted to see how far the pumpkins would fly and how fast the catapult would launch them."

His Chunk-A-Delic team was among several squaring off Saturday in the 10th annual competition sponsored by Cornell Cooperative Extension at Suffolk County Farm and Education Center in Yaphank.

Team Islip, which was favored to repeat as champs and has won seven of the last nine years, threw a pumpkin 1,045 feet in its first launch. The throw shattered the competition record, which the team set at 906 feet last year.

Team Islip member Brian Eichner, 16, said the success is not due to the massive size of its catapult -- which has a 24-foot arm and a 17-foot trailer -- but the powerful springs attached to the contraption.

Ken Phalen, the team's volunteer catapult coach, downplayed the accomplishment by focusing on the event. "This is a great way to end the fall season," said Phalen, whose team won the national championship in Delaware in 2006.

At the fling, two teams were represented in the 13 years and younger category, while five teams were in the 14 to 18 age group. Both were judged on distance and accuracy.

"I like that they shoot very far," said Max Kurka, 12, a first-year participant who used the early morning competition as a pre-Halloween treat.

Chris Ryon, event announcer, said the pumpkin fling teaches kids about engineering by constructing a catapult machine. "It's all about throwing pumpkins and we're all here to have a good time."

Others teams involved in the competition included Pack 370 from Islip, Jack O' Splatter from Islip High School and South Side Cyclones from Rockville Centre.

"This is something I do for the kids . . . the fact that they are here [shows] they love it," said David Claps, an Islip Middle School technology teacher who oversaw Team Chunk-A-Delic of Islip.

Other visitors only wanted to get outside for a breath of fresh air. "I just wanted to bring my nephew," said Nicole Vilalo, 19, who watched the event from afar to avoid being hit by a pumpkin.

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