If 15 classrooms each box up a pumpkin to be dropped from 40 feet, how many pumpkins will survive?
That’s what students and staff at Granite City’s Maryville Elementary found out on a breezy, gray Wednesday morning.
It was the school’s Pumpkin Smash Bash.
The day before, students in Kristin Laws’ first-grade class packaged their medium-size pumpkin.
“Caroline, you brought in the bubble wrap. Dawson brought in pillows. Elizabeth, the shredded paper. I want everybody to think what they would put in there first. Are we going to put all this stuff on top of the pumpkin or on the bottom, sides, front and back? Remember, it will be dropped from up high.
“I have an idea of wrapping the pumpkin in this bubble wrap, kind of like swaddling a baby,” their teacher said, wrestling the pumpkin into the wrap.
“What about the bag of shredded paper? Would you take it out of the bag or leave it in?”
They decided to take it out of the bag.
All were in favor of pillows for softness. Soon, pillows overflowed the box.
“Ah oh, now what are we going to do? It doesn’t fit.”
“Take something out,” Abegail Byrum said.
“What if the firemen don’t know which is the top and bottom?”
A collective gasp.
“What if all of them break?” said one first-grader. “No one will be a winner.”
“Then we will have to do it again,” Abegail said.
“Let’s put our name on the side of the box so they know it’s ours,” said their teacher.
By 10 a.m. Wednesday, a fire truck with a 40-foot extension ladder was waiting in Calvary Life Church’s parking lot across the street. Students carried school chairs to the parking lot so they would have a dry place to sit. They lined up in rows a good distance from the fire truck to cheer their pumpkin.
Lea Ann Oller, Title 1 reading teacher and Pumpkin Smash Bash organizer, kept track of which boxed pumpkin was about to be dropped, then crossed the parking lot to let the students know.
“Boys and girls, it’s Ms. Bruner’s. Let’s see if it survives the drop.”
The roar of “drop it, drop it” grew, until the box landed.
Then, a chant, “open it, open it.”
Police and firefighters took turns tearing open the sealed boxes to see if the packaging — plastic bottles, packing peanuts, plastic bags and pillows — allowed the pumpkin to survive. Halfway through, none had. Each pumpkin had at least one crack.
Lea Ann started to worry.
“I hope some make it,” she said.
She got the pumpkin drop idea from her son, Charlie, who attends C.A. Henning Elementary School in Troy. Their school competes with another school.
“He and my older son Jack, who is now at the middle school in Troy, told me that I have to do it for my students at Maryville because it is such a fun day for kids. The number of pumpkins that make it varies from year to year. They may have 10 that don’t break. They may have five. I thought bringing it to Maryville would be a fun activity and would get the community and parents involved. We’ve been planning for a year.”
The Granite City Fire Department and Police Department were happy to help. The Rev. Mark Maynard let them use Calvary Life’s parking lot. After an all-day rain Tuesday, Bill Whitaker Landscaping came out and cleared water from the parking lot. Relleke Pumpkin Farm donated pumpkins.
“It was up to students to bring in packing supplies and equipment,” said Lea Ann. “It’s all about the kids.”
Firefighter Trevor Herderhorst was the ladder man, slowly being lowered to pick up the next pumpkin. Up and down 15 times.
How did he get the honor?
“I’m the new guy on the block. I never dropped any pumpkins off a fire truck before. It was fun, a good time.”
At one point, he rested his head on a pillow wrapped around a pumpkin box.
After 15 big thuds, one pumpkin survived.
It was in a box decorated with drawings pumpkins, black cats and other designs. Jocelyn Tatum’s second-grade class gets bragging rights till next year.
“Plastic bags did the trick,” Sgt. Mike Parkinson said. “There was cushion in there. It was not wrapped tight.”
He got a kick out of the event.
“It’s great to see the kids having fun at school.”
Jocelyn Tatum was proud of her class, but unsure why their pumpkin made it.
“I have no idea,” she said. “The kids just brought stuff in and we smushed it as full as we could.”
“Work hard and think of better ways to pack our pumpkins,” said principal Mark Lull. “When packing the pumpkins, they learned about physics and gravity. I am surprised. I thought we would have more that survived.”
Which was more fun, packing a pumpkin or watching it drop?
“Packing it,” third-grader Andrew Hartman said.
“Watching it drop,” said Carly Barnes, also a third-grader.