Cardboard boats a soggy success for class

Photos by Traci Westcott/The Herald
Northeast Dubois High School senior Jordan Baker brings up the rear while classmates cheer him on during the annual cardboard boat race at the school in Dubois on Friday. "I feel like I could have definitely done better, but it was a success in my book," Jordan said. "Sure, there were a couple capsizes, but I made it down and back and that's what the boat was meant to do." 


DUBOIS — Screams and cheers could be heard Friday morning at Northeast Dubois High School’s indoor pool area.

The seven students in Audrey Case’s engineering class were doing their best to pedal their four cardboard boats they made from one end of the pool to the other, then back.

They had a big audience watching: some parents and administrators, and the school district’s entire eighth-grade class, who had their high-school orientation that day.

Cardboard walls collapsed inward and onto the students. Water bypassed the duct-taped seams and seeped into the bottom of the boats. But the students kept pedaling with their makeshift cardboard pedals.

Northeast Dubois High School junior Courtney Weisheit, right, tries to start the wave going before the annual cardboard boat race at the school on Friday. 

Sophomore Jason Knowles said they worked on the boats for about a month.

“We came up with a design, and made a model,” he explained.

That model was put in water as a test. After that, the human-sized boat was made.

“We adjusted our design some, from what it was at first,” he said.

One of the bigger changes for Jason and his partners’ boat was the addition of walls inside the boat, which had each student sitting in his own compartment.

“We weren’t going to do that at first, but I’m glad we had these walls,” said sophomore Cole Tretter, Jason’s partner. “In the water, the outer walls wanted to buckle. But these (inner) walls held them in place.”

Northeast Dubois High School sophomore Cole Tretter, left, and his peers, Tucker Neukam, Adelle Fravell, Jason Knowles, and Reece Bauer attempt to pile into one boat after the annual cardboard boat race at the school on Friday. 

The duo won the race. Their boat seemed to slice through the water quickly. The pointed, triangular front may have helped, Jason said.

“We wanted to make it look like a boat,” he said.

But the duo felt trouble settling in as they first settled into the boat.

“As soon as we got in, I felt water come through the bottom,” Cole said.

Three of the four boats completed the race intact. One boat, made by senior Jordan Baker, didn’t make it too far from the starting line before it caved.

“I didn’t have it taped too well,” he said afterward. “The middle buckled.”

But he kept going, though it was more of a leisurely ride by then. The other three boats had completed the race, while Jordan laid on top of the now flat boat and sort of glided himself down the pool lane and back. He got a lot of encouragement from the crowd, with the eighth-graders spelling out his name and cheering “Jordan!” over and over. His classmates waited for him at the end, and helped pull him and the cardboard out of the water.

If he could design the boat again, “I would make the walls taller,” he said. “They were definitely too short. And I would have taped it better, so that it would have held together better than it did.”

This is the second year Case’s engineering class has built the boats. Case, who is a math teacher most of the day, admits that she is not an engineer. But learning the aspects of engineering can be valuable for students. And, she said, she wanted to make sure students had an opportunity to take the class to experiment and learn, along with her.

“We are learning this together,” she said.

Northeast Dubois High School senior Jordan Baker, left, is pulled out of the water by his peers after finishing last in the annual boat race at Northeast Dubois High School on Friday. 

Junior Elaina Epple came in second with her partner, junior Reece Bauer. Sophomore team Adelle Fravell and Tucker Neukam came in third.

“We did pretty good,” Elaina said. “If we did it again, we would have made (the boat) skinnier and shorter. And we would have taped more.”

The next project the students will work on involves hydraulics. The engineering students and students in the high school’s physics class plan to make rockets.

Northeast Dubois High School sophomore Cole Tretter, left, pushes his classmate, Jason Knowles into the pool after the annual cardboard boat race at the school on Friday. 

More on