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Bullitt Central robotics class 'hog wild' over competition

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By Stephen Thomas

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - It was educational. It was a fundraiser. It might become a new holiday tradition. And it made the principal pucker up.

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And it was summed up in three simple words: Pig verses robot.

Bullitt Central High School hosted an in-school fundraising event pitting Penelope the Pig, a school resident cared for by the agriculture department, verses The War Pig, a mobile robot created by students in the new Robotics class.

The event was organized by the Bullitt Central Future Farmers of America (FFA) program. Instructor Mike Peake said students could attend the races for a $2 donation or a $1 and canned good donation. 

FFA collected $957 for the Home of the Innocents, along with plenty of food for elderly care programs for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Peake said half the proceeds would go to FFA programs, with the other half for donations through the Bullitt Central College Credit Advanced Placement (C-CAP) magnet program, headed by teacher Sara Anderson.

FFA members prepped Penelope for her race course, a hay maze that zigzagged along the Bullitt Central gymnasium floor. Peake thanked 2M Tractor for the hay donation.

Meanwhile, Robotics students, led by instructor Ed Farrar, dressed with a pig tie, prepared to maneuver The War Pig through its own obstacle course.

The winner would be the first to make it to center court.

Students selected sides to root for their favorite. The standard home bleachers were offered to Penelope, while robot rooters filled the opposite stands.

Farrar said the new Robotics course was a pre-engineering program with about 100 students, some that created, designed, and programmed The War Pig to perform in the race.

"I've never seen kids have to think as much as they did," Farrar said. "I didn't have to force them. They learned so much more because they wanted to."

Farrar mentioned the school planned a Robotics II for next year, with hopes for a third-year program focusing on building rockets, bridges and other technology-based projects.

Where The War Pig had student brain power on its side, the real pig had her own secret weapons: Pringles chips and Oreo cookies, implemented by FFA members to encourage Penelope not to take a pitstop.

Round one saw an indifferent swine stand mostly still, while the hybrid-designed hog methodically made its way through various obstacles. The students were ripe with anticipation.

A few Pringles brought Penelope around, but not up. She refused to cross a small makeshift ramp. Meanwhile, a few wide turns cost The War Pig valuable time.

At the finish, the robot took top honors. But this was just round one, and new obstacles would be implemented for the next race.

Round two saw Penelope hog the cheers as she moved briskly along her path, with assistance from a half-eaten Oreo. The War Pig's higher intelligence did not allow for a second gear. Penelope won easily.

The event seemed to come to a draw, but the students would not be denied. A single match race, pig verses robot, would determine the day's fates.

It would also determine whether or not principal Christy Coulter would kiss the pig. A victory for FFA's favorite daughter would result in a Penelope pucker.

At the start, Penelope was ready and raring to go, jumping - as much as a pig can - to a substantial lead. The War Pig could not match the speed and was left in the pig slop.

Coulter made a fair, yet uneasy attempt, at a victory smooch. Unfortunately, an excited squeal from Penelope ended the celebration, with Coulter backing up to safety.