A 13-year-old with a love of science proved to be roach coach extraordinaire at the 31st annual Great American Bug Race at Palm Beach Atlantic University on Wednesday.
Thomas Bronson, a home-educated seventh-grader who is enrolled in Florida Virtual School, came to his first-ever bug race with his parents and his twin brother Jacob after his mom heard about the annual event on the morning news.
The roach he bought for 50 cents and named “Ty” out-scurried the competition and took first place in the final race, which earned Bronson the $100 top prize. The contest took place in the parking lot near Rinker Hall under cloudy skies with windy conditions and occasional sprinkles of rain.
“I just really put care into him,” Bronson said afterward. “I tried keeping him warm and I just basically gave him lots of hope.”
Bronson’s mother, Ana Jarez, also took part in the competition, although her roach wasn’t speedy enough to qualify for the final round. She said her sons’ favorite subject is science. “I wanted to do something fun with them,” she said.
The bug race is one of the highlights of this year’s Homecoming Week. The bug race benefits the University's Science Club and is PBA’s longest-running tradition.
The race was open to students as well as alumni, faculty, staff, administrators and bug aficionados in the general public. In all, more than 40 roaches entered the contest, and they run in heats.
Cash prizes were awarded for the first-, second- and third-place bug coaches in both the student category and the faculty/staff/alumni/others category.
PBA sophomore Mike Leonard won $50 when his roach, the appropriately named Speedy McQuickfast, took first place in the student category, fending off challenges from racers with names like Champion and Whatever.
“We had a lot of chemistry when I picked him out. I knew the pairing was right,” said Leonard, who is majoring in mathematics. “I gave him a pep talk after every round.”
Kayla Lanktree, a senior majoring in medicinal and biological chemistry, said she had plans for her bug, Slick, after the race was over.
“I’m going to set him free,” she said.
Among the spectators was Hazel Edmunds, a 2011 PBA graduate who said she raced bugs twice during her years as an undergraduate majoring in mathematics and minoring in chemistry. “I think it brings everyone together, adults and kids and people from the community,” she said.
As for the roaches themselves, “I’m terrified of them,” she said.
The sponsor of this year’s race was Abalon Pest Services. In addition to the sponsorship, bug sales and entry fees, the event raises money for the Science Club through T-shirt sales.