Few teachers would accept students throwing tomatoes in their direction. North Augusta High School science teacher Kathy Gambill not only encourages it, she grades them on it.
Gambill’s Advanced Placement Physics class gathered on the Daniel O’Neal Jacket Regiment Practice Field on Monday morning to compete in the annual tomato launch, a friendly competition but also a test grade for the group. Students constructed launching devices out of their own materials at home, not knowing the exact distance of their target, only that it would be between 20 and 22 meters. The actual distance was 20.1 meters or 66 feet.
“We just finished doing projectile motion and Newton’s Laws, and we’re about to do energy, so this is a great lesson on projectile motion and force, and they learned a lot about the energy stored in springs and ballast,” Gambill said.
They are graded on their process including why they chose to construct their device the way they did and lessons learned during the creation. They must also identify the source of energy in the device as well as other key components.
Students were permitted to work on their own or in teams of up to four people to construct their launchers. Each had three practice shots Monday to adjust their devices to get closer to the target, and got three attempts to hit the target.
“It’s just really interesting every year. Every year they’re different,” Gambill said. “They’re so creative and sometimes a little one will win. You’d be surprised. It just takes one lucky shot.”
That lucky shot came from junior Rebekah Adams and her ballista launcher, one of the smaller devices at the competition. Adams used an exercise band, two-by-four pieces of wood, screws and a metal cup to send a tomato flying through the air and landing just four-and-a-half feet from the center of the hula hoop target. She said she only had to make minor shifts to the positioning of the launcher after her practice shots.
“When I was making it, I was aiming for about that far,” she said.
Following the official competition, several students requested to test their device’s distance capability. Sean Lloyd, a senior, and his team’s floating arm trebuchet launched a lemon — because they were out of tomatoes — across the band practice field and over Knobcone Avenue before landing on the football field. Lloyd estimated that his team spent 40 to 50 hours constructing and practicing with the trebuchet in his driveway at home.
No neighbors were directly impacted in the practice attempts.
“They tried to stay inside, I guess,” Lloyd said.