ROY -- Roy Junior High School students got out of the way when they heard the words, "Fire in the hole!" from physics teacher Lynn McMillen. Soon after, pumpkins covered in duct tape would go flying through the air -- some forward, some backward and some pretty high up in the air.
The ninth-grade students were participating in McMillen's annual pumpkin launch with student-designed trebuchets. Students have been working in groups of four on the trebuchets -- a medieval weapon -- since Labor Day. It has been an annual tradition at the school for 14 years.
McMillen said the project is part of the district's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, program because the students come full circle with the project. They research and design the trebuchet, put it together, test it and then write a paper discussing their findings afterward.
Some students found great success and hit the target several times, and others barely missed the mark. Student Nik Saunders carefully cradled his broken and duct tape-wrapped pumpkin as he watched his friends take their turns at launching. His and his partner's pumpkin landed half a meter of short of the goal, but Saunders felt it was still a success.
"It was kind of cool," Saunders said.
He showed off a bandaged arm from a "war wound" he got from pulling the pin to launch his pumpkin.
"That thing went deep," he said.
He was proud of his hard work and admitted it was harder to put the machine together than he expected, but was worth the effort. He knew when he signed up for the physics class last spring that he would be doing the project.
"Everyone kind of knows about it and talks about it," he said.
He felt confident he would get a good grade as he showed off his kilt that he wore for extra credit. Lots of students were wearing kilts and funny hats to create the mood for the pumpkin launch.
McMillen gave extra points to students who dressed up in period clothing. McMillen also showed support, wearing a Viking hat, as pumpkins came flying toward him as he took measurements.
Student Mattie Shaw's group was very excited, because her team of four hit the target time and again, and sometimes even surpassed the target. The team enlisted her dad to help cut the wood for the project.
"We didn't want to cut off our fingers or anything," she said, laughing.
Her team used large bricks and rocks to weight their machine, while other students used exercise weights, bricks and boulders. Students had to do at least 10 test launches before the official launch Wednesday.
Student Kathryn Jones used her entire body to weigh the machine down as her fellow students hooked up the pumpkin to launch. They all cheered as they saw success with their duct tape-wrapped pumpkin.
McMillen said he could tell the students who had been working for weeks on their projects from those who just started last weekend.
"They can tell the difference, too," he said, laughing.
McMillen guides the students through the project, but also expects them to take initiative. Many students enlist the help of parents or family members who have some expertise as well. Students said they enjoyed the time spent with family and friends working on the project.
Shaw's team brought treats to share as they watched their pumpkin launch far and high.