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The sounds of snapping balsa wood mixed with cheers and groans from classmates is a familiar one in early January at Mooseheart, when for 30 years Curt Schlinkmann’s physics class students have participated in a bridge breaking competition.
This year, the champion was Jeff Leigh, whose bridge withstood 31.7 pounds in a bucket suspended from the center of his bridge before it snapped.
“I think I learned what we were supposed to take away from this experience,” Leigh said. “I was proud of my bridge and proud that I cared and took the time I put into it.”
From the planning stage through construction and finally into Mooseheart’s 30th annual bridge breaking contest, Leigh’s balsa-and-glue construction was a bridge designed for success.
“I put about 23 hours of work into it, in eight or nine stages over a four-day period,” Leigh said. “The most important part was to make a plan before I started, where I calculated how much stuff I had and how much I could use.”
Leigh said he spent two days designing his bridge before he started construction, making calculations to determine the best way to build his bridge.
“I was pretty confident I was going to win,” Leigh said. “I was sure I was going to get an A on the project. But after John (Turton) went and his held 19.5 pounds, I was really nervous because, of course, I had never tested my bridge and there could have been a mistake I hadn’t recognized.”
Turton finished second with his construction. Lezly Romero’s bridge held 15.6 pounds and was third in the 10-person competition. Schlinkmann praised this year’s bridge builders, all seniors, who brought a variety of styles to the contest.
“I think they all learned from it,” Schlinkmann said. “It was one of the best groups. They all withstood the bucket, which was good to see. I’m always amazed every year that some of these structures hold more than you’d think.”
Schlinkmann has fond memories of the contest, which he inaugurated at Mooseheart in 1987 in a contest won by E.J. Viking. The record for most weight sustained before a bridge broke belongs to Adrianna Tezanos-Pinto, whose 2007 bridge held 71 pounds.
“I went back and looked my list of all the people who had won, and I said ‘oh, I remember this person’ and ‘I remember that bridge,'” Schlinkmann said. “It’s a bit of a trip down memory lane, to think of all the people who have been in your class. It’s one of the ways I connect with the students, with their bridges.”