Thousands attend ‘Storm The Citadel’ trebuchet competition

Students with Fort Johnson Middle School prepare their trebuchet to fire during the 6th Annual Storm The Citadel Trebuchet Competition on Saturday at The Citadel.

West Ashley High School senior Anthony Brown and his five teammates worked for months to construct a medieval-style trebuchet out of lumber and metal. They lingered after classes to practice launching the contraption, and made adjustments along the way to perfect its release ahead of the sixth annual “Storm The Citadel” competition.

Their efforts paid off as they hurled balls through the air on a windy Saturday, intent on striking a box perched on The Citadel’s Summerall Field. The boys placed first in their division for accuracy — one of the toughest of the day’s contests — and took home a trophy.

But for the team, the day was less about winning as it was having fun.

“We’re all really good friends,” Brown said, his teammates nodding in agreement, “so this was a way for us to hang out together and do something we all love to do.”

Roughly 3,000 people crowded The Citadel’s grounds to watch 123 teams compete in the annual competition. Teams, comprised mostly of students elementary through college-aged, traveled from across the Lowcountry, as well as Richland, Sumter, Darlington and York counties, to attend the annual competition.

The trebuchets are the most popular contest and are judged in multiple categories including design, accuracy and spirit. Robotics, rockets and bridge-building teams are also showcased in other activities.

The event, which falls within National Engineers Week, was founded in 2011 by Google and The Citadel’s School of Engineering. The aim is to reinforce the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math, said Jeff Stevenson, a senior program manager with Google and one of the event’s organizers.

By doing so, the competition would help “breed the next generation of scientists and engineers,” Stevenson said.

It’s best, he said, to emphasize the importance of those careers to students while they’re young.

“By the time they’re in college they’ve already made up their minds. Math is too hard and science is not interesting,” he said. “This competition shows that you can use those ordinary math problems to build and do something that you can have fun with.”

A 10-member team of Boeing employees also competed against Google in the “Barbarian” category for professionals. Boeing, the reigning champions, fell to Google during this year’s contest.

Paul Werntges, a liaison engineer with Boeing, said his team worked four days a week since September to construct their steel trebuchets and at times offered guidance to the event’s younger competitors.

“It shows (the students) that if you study engineering, you can build something like this too,” Werntges said, eyeing the steel apparatus as the team prepared for a launch. “It really is great to see them work hard and get more excited about the competition and engineering each year.”

Reach Christina Elmore at 843-937-5908.