COAL CITY – The playground at Coal City Intermediate School looked like a scene from the stone ages Wednesday as 33 catapults lined the blacktop.
But instead of launching stones, Coal City fifth-graders chose a tastier kind of ammunition: vanilla cupcakes.
The cupcakes soared as far as 147 feet during the school’s third annual Cupcake Launch Competition organized by fifth-grade science teachers Neil Nicholson and Jennifer Rink.
Each of the 33 launchers was designed and built by students and their parents.
Although participation was encouraged, it was not mandatory for students.
“It’s not for a grade, just for fun,” Rink said.
The competition is one of several extension projects at Coal City that take learning beyond the classroom, Rink said.
“Last year we had over 100 people, between parents and students,” Rink said. “It’s growing every year.”
Nicholson said he came up with the idea for the competition years ago after attending a science fair where a scientist tested the density of cupcakes.
“We just turned it into a competition,” Nicholson said. “Something fun to get the kids excited about science and get the parents and community involved with the school.”
Kids were given a month to build their catapults and were required to do all the research themselves, Nicholson said.
The only rule the kids were given was to keep their contraptions no more than one meter high and wide.
“We didn’t want them launching them at people’s houses,” Nicholson said.
Many of the kids enlisted help from their parents, including 10-year-old Stephen Druce who’s father is a junior high physics teacher.
“He helped me get the materials and think of what supplies I would need,” Druce said.
Many of the parents were cheering and clapping as loudly as their children as they watched the cupcakes soar through the air.
One such parent was Frank Labanowski, whose son, Fred, won the competition with a launch of 147 feet, significantly farther than last year’s winning launch of 52 feet.
Labanowski’s catapult, named The Artillery, had an edge over the competition as it was the only one powered by an air compressor.
Fred said his catapult – like many of the other students’ – was a hand-me-down from his sister who used it in last year’s competition.
“It only went about 15 feet last year because we thought there would be big, Hostess cupcakes,” Frank Labanowski said. “But we got here, and they gave us these tiny cupcakes. Our barrel was way too big.”
This year, the father and son modified The Artillery’s barrel and walked away with the first-place plaque.
Rink and Nicholson baked 130 cupcakes for the event, leaving enough for each student to eat one after the competition.
“We saved the frosted ones for eating,” Rink said.
Almost all of the children stuck around to watch the final round of the competition, which included five catapults: The Pinkana tor, The Terminator, The Artillery, Collie Rymer P5000 and Pinkalicious.
“I think the kids wanted to turn it into a water balloon launcher,” Fred Labanowski said. “Not a bad idea.”