High Life / A WEEKLY FORUM FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS : Gentlemen, Set Your Traps, Ready . . . GO! : Education: Students at Placentia's Valencia High have vied in this mousetrap-powered race since 1982.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Michael Chen is a senior at Valencia High School, where he is news editor of El Tigre, the student newspaper, a member of student government and president of the National Honor Society chapter

"On your marks . . . get set . . . release your mousetraps!"

Release your mousetraps?

No, they weren't trying to catch Speedy Gonzalez with a product straight out of the Acme Mousetrap Co.'s spring catalogue.

Instead, students at Valencia High School were participating in the annual Great Mousetrap Race, where student-designed, mousetrap-propelled model cars compete to see which can travel the greatest distance.

The competition is the brainchild of resource student Ward Gallap, who designed and built the first mousetrap car in 1982.

"Ward was a very special student, full of ideas and very hard working," metal shop teacher Charlie Allen said. "His dedication has led him to become a successful professional welder."

Allen has organized the event each year since its beginning.

"It's a great experience for a lot of students to get involved," he said. "It's a fun time, and the students enjoy the competition."

In its inaugural year, eight students entered, and the winning car covered 18 feet. This year, more than 65 students competed, and model cars built by junior Marc O'Brien and senior Ralph Castro each traveled 97 feet.

The race was "a great experience," according to O'Brien, who added that he is looking forward to an upcoming runoff with Castro for the $10 grand prize.

The basic mousetrap car consists of four wheels on two axles attached to a base with a mouse trap affixed. A string is used to connect the spring-loaded bar of the mousetrap to the car's rear axle. When the bar is pulled back, the string winds around the axle. When the bar is released, it pulls the string which, in turn, turns the axle, propelling the car forward.

Allen believes the race is not only fun but "teaches the students manufacturing skills." The race is always held the week before spring break, and most of the cars are built over a six-week period in Allen's metal shop class.

Allen had hoped newly enforced restrictions, such as prohibiting the use of rubber-band drives and modified mousetrap springs and ball bearings, would keep the distances under 50 feet, thus allowing the competition to take place in the school's gymnasium.

However, enterprising students--particularly O'Brien and Castro--helped to keep the races outside, where the rainy weather was a factor.

"The Great Mousetrap Race is an excellent learning opportunity," said senior Chanon Allen, who was announcer for this year's race after entering the competition the last two years. "But it goes far beyond that, because friendships are formed between the students when they work together. And that is a wonderful thing."

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