October 28, 2011
Shooting for the stars: Cat Cannon Club suits Salina campus students to a 'tee'
The Cat Cannon has been part of Kansas State University football games for more than a decade.
"I've known about since I was a kid. My cousin and I dreamed of shooting it off at a game," said Eric Swenson, a junior in engineering technology from Lindsborg, at Kansas State University Salina.
Swenson's dream came true at the first game of the Wildcats' 2011 football season.
"There's nothing else like it," he said. "It's a game day tradition and you're part of something with 50,000 people who are really excited to see you."
Swenson is one of 12 students in the Cat Cannon Club this year. For each home game, three students from the university's Salina campus load the cannon into the bed of a pick-up truck and haul the T-shirt launcher and a plastic tub filled with its apparel ammunition to Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan.
One of those students will steer the machine around the stadium, one will load the cannon, and one -- with nerves of steel -- will press the button that launches T-shirts into the screaming crowd.
"It's really stressful being the one who shoots the cannon, no matter how many times you've done it before," said Antonio "TJ" Hearn, senior in engineering technology, Stafford.
Derek Bean, junior in aviation, Hesston, and the club's current president, agrees. "There's lots of people yelling at you to shoot a shirt at them. Some people want to be shot in the face. I don't know why. It would really hurt," he said.
That Cat Cannon can shoot a shirt the length of a football field and, with a little tweaking, the machine is capable of launching a shirt three times that distance, according to club members. Not to mention the shirts are folded to about 4-inches wide, rolled as tightly as possible, and then wrapped in multiple layers of masking tape until they look like little burritos. The more tightly wrapped and secured the shirt, the better it shoots.
While the cannon is calibrated to use only a fraction of the pressure available when launching shirts, the first 15 rows of seats are not allowed in the shooting area.
"Fans that sit close to the field are really disappointed that we don't send shirts into their area, but it's for their safety," Bean said.
Keeping safety in mind, the club has a rule that members can't shoot the cannon until their second year with the group. In the meantime, they learn as much as they can about the mechanical and electric systems.
"Our cannon is designed, built, and maintained by K-State Salina students to be one-of-a-kind," Bean said.
The machine features a revolver-style loading system, making the shooting process much safer than early designs that required a student to load the cannon from the end of the barrel by using a stick. The latest edition is made of metal rather than the previous PVC pipe, and runs off of a program logic controller. It's completely air-pressure driven, using air canisters regulated to only use up to 200 pounds per square inch of the available 3,000 pounds per square inch of pressure.
The Cat Cannon will be sporting a new paint job for Saturday's homecoming game, where the team will shoot about 75 shirts provided by the university's athletics department.
"We start in the student section and work our way around the stadium," Bean said. "We shoot during time outs and at the end of each quarter as long as nothing else is happening on the field."
When not launching shirts, the three-team members on the field are preparing for the next round of shirts and watching the game.
"It's nice to be part of the Cat Cannon tradition, but being on the field so close to the game is pretty great, too," said Steven Colgrove, junior in engineering technology, Washington. Colgrove, in his third year with the club, will be part of the team at Saturday's game.
Even though Swenson will not be accompanying the cannon to the game, he's excited that it will be there.
"It's just not a football game without the Cat Cannon," he said.
He's also excited about the idea that there will be kids in the crowd dreaming of shooting the cannon one day. And perhaps, just like Swenson, they will have a chance to make that dream come true.