By Renée Kiriluk-Hill/Hunterdon Democrat
on October 22, 2012 at 7:24 PM, updated October 22, 2012 at 7:28 PM

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HARMONY TWP. — Catapulting a pumpkin across a farm field is a study in physics, mathematics, construction and teamwork.

Photo: Renée Kiriluk-Hill/Hunterdon Democrat
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But even the best-laid plans can go awry — hence the hard hats, “all clear” zones and large hay bales behind the machines at the annual Last Fling Pumpkin Sling on Oct. 20 and 21.

Because, when the arm holding the pumpkin whips around, it really moves. And there’s always a chance that the pumpkin won’t fling in the intended direction. When it does, it can fly hundreds of feet before falling down splat.

It happened at the start of the second round of competition, and the pumpkin shot backwards. Everyone had been cleared from behind the homemade machine, so the only thing hurt was some pride.

The two-day event, which includes games, bands, sand-sculpture carving, food, area tours, vendors, local organization booths, hay rides and free children’s crafts, has a different set of competitors each day, vying for a smashed-pumpkin trophy and cash prizes.

They come from throughout the region. On Saturday Boy Scout Troop 100 of Evesham returned for what’s become an annual event for the active troop. The scouts camp out nearby by the weekend and are recognizable by the pirate-motif designs on the sides of their catapult, which is winched by hand.

Warren County Technical School competed, as did Bethlehem (Pa.) Christian School. Three members of the Bergen Catholic High School Engineering Club were there for the first time: Joseph Niece, Raph Longobardi and Dante Tillman.

Joseph said their entry was built on a “very low budget;” almost all of the materials came from his home, like scrap lumber and free weights.

The three endorsed the Pumpkin Sling, saying they’d had a great time building the catapult and competing.

The Berlin “Sir Chunks A Lot” team — father-and-son Dean and Nick Ustaszewski and Andrew Alexander — didn’t compete, they demonstrated how champions shoot a pumpkin. They are the reigning champions in catapult in the World Championship Punkin Chunkin and were warming up to defend their title in two weeks in Ridgeville, Del.

In Delaware, they said, there will be 125 machines and 12 categories. The best part there, said Nick, is beating a team that constructed a $150,000 machine. “It’s a real kick,” he said, knowing that Sir Chunks has cost “maybe $15,000 over the years” and has come out on top in Ridgeville twice, lat year and in 2008.

Batteries supply the winching power here, but there’s still a lot of adjusting and tweaking. “You have to grow older, but you never have to grow up,” joked Nick.