Paul Rockland was confident he could pull off a win for a third year in a row in the Pi Day pie-eating contest at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School.
Before any of his four competitors sat down at the table on Thursday, the senior was already centering his cherry pie in front of him and tucking his arms inside the clear plastic trash bag that each of the contestants wore as a protective poncho.
“It doesn’t look like I have much competition,” he declared in some friendly trash-talking before the start of the contest to see who could eat their dessert the fastest without using their hands.
But despite attacking the pie with gusto, Rockland couldn’t match the enthusiastic munching of junior Sam Bartlett, who polished off the filling of his blueberry pie faster than the other four teen boys who competed during their lunch period.
A handful of students in two lunch periods paid $3.14 each to enter the pie contest, the price a nod to pi, the mathematical constant that results
from dividing any circle’s circumference by its diameter.
Pi is usually expressed as 3.14 but it can be extended to dozens or hundreds of digits, or even more: The digits to the right of the decimal point famously stretch into infinity without ever repeating, making it a favorite for math fans who like to memorize as many of the numbers as they can.
Of course, bringing the sweeter type of pie into Pi Day attracts a wider audience to the celebration, which is held each March 14.
“It’s not real academic, but I feel like it brings math to the forefront on Pi Day,” said high school math teacher Carolyn Litynski, who oversees the school’s math club. This was the third year the club has run the contest.
As their classmates gathered around to watch, Bartlett and the other contestants paused for brief moments during the speedy contest to chew and swallow laboriously, Bartlett with his face muscles slack and eyes staring into space.
He said afterward he wasn’t losing steam at that point, “just chewing.”
“It was simple,” he said. “You just eat all the pie.”
As he finished and was declared the winner, he joked, “I’m going to Disney World,” sporting a sticky blueberry goatee and a generous dollop of the filling on his nose.
In reality, his prize was much more affordable for the math club — the opportunity to chuck a pie in the face of his classmate and friend John Natalie, who had volunteered in advance.
“I’m so scared,” Natalie said with a grin.
Bartlett steadied the pie tin full of whipped cream on one upturned palm and catapulted it at Natalie. But he missed a full-on shot, delivering a creamy glancing blow to Natalie’s forehead and accidentally hurtling the dish into the crowd of spectators.
Anthony Ranere bore the brunt of it, the dairy topping sticking to his black shirt and pants.
“I smell sweet. That’s all I can say,” Ranere said after wiping off most of it. “It actually was pretty funny.”
The club usually looks for the “biggest hams” in school to take the pie in the face, Litynski said.
At the second lunch period, Eric Dillion, who was voted most valuable player of the high school football team this year, volunteered.
“Anyone would love to get the most valuable player of the football team with a pie in the face,” Litynski said.
As Bartlett struggled to wipe the gooey mess off his own face, he admitted his victory came with a price.
“I don’t want to eat blueberry pie for a long time.”