The motivational speech they heard that day, given by well-known speaker Mark Scharenbroich, planted a seed in the students' minds to start a canned food drive. That first year, 1,000 cans were collected.
"And we were amazed with that," said Pietkiewicz, who now serves as an assistant principal at the school.
Now, 30 years -- and hundreds of thousands of cans -- later, it's difficult to measure the long-lasting effects that one trip has had on the community of Bedford County.
"I looked at the display this year and said 'there's a lot of hungry people here -- right here at Central -- who are going to eat the food displayed on this very gym floor," said Riley Richardson, student council president.
Shelbyville Central High School's Great Canned Food Drive wrapped up its 30th anniversary last month with 21,168 cans being delivered to the local Good Samaritan affiliate. It's an event that Good Sam has come to rely on each year, with the food drive refreshing shelves that always seem to be empty this time of year.
"The Great Canned Food Drive is and has been the most worthwhile activity that our entire school does," said Marla Jennings, a theatre arts teacher at Central and former student. "It is simply amazing for many reasons. It is amazing because of the unbelievable number of cans that have been collected over the past 30 years.
"I can only imagine how many more Bedford County families have benefited from this one activity ... It is amazing because it teaches our students the joy of giving ... It is amazing because it helps further a sense of 'community' and 'family' when students work together to build the displays out of all the cans and necessities."
Back in 1981, after the student council retreat where students learned of the idea, Pietkiewicz says the concept was presented to then-principal Mike Bone.
"Had it not been for an extremely supportive principal, Mike Bone, the Student Council never would have been allowed to try the project," Pietkiewicz said. "As principal, Mr. Bone was always interested in and encouraged leadership activities for students. He strongly supported the Student Council members traveling to workshops and conventions throughout the state of Tennessee where they shared the many ideas and projects that they developed and brought back new ideas.
"That support for student leadership was continued by his successors, Don Boyd and Don Embry. We are so grateful that Mr. Embry has been in the Bedford County School System for a number of years, and has a deep appreciation for this project. His support has been vital to its continuing success in spite of the many changes that have occurred in the field of education."
Interestingly, when reminiscing about the early days of the canned food drive, Pietkiewicz also recalled the nervousness students felt about presenting the idea to then-basketball coach Rick Insell. Insell was on a roll, just starting to make a name for himself and the Eaglettes. How would he feel about sharing his famed floor with the student council?
"He was really coming into his own at that time," Pietkiewicz recalled. "But he was, and always has been, so gracious, cooperative and supportive."
Other funny stories quickly immerged as a group came together to reminisce about the event's history last week. For instance, Neal Gordon, class of 1983, recalled a story, from the first year of the drive, that shows precisely how far the school has come.
"I was there as a student council member and officer the first two years of the Great Canned Food Drive," said Gordon, who is now the school's soccer coach.
"I have lots of memories of the displays, but my absolute favorite was the first year involving Teresa Taylor Clanton. "As president of the freshmen, she was the only one who showed up to do the display. At the encouragement of the upperclassmen, she spelled 'TERESA CLASS OF 85' and left. I still laugh about that and tell that story every year like it's a Christmas classic."
While the end product of the canned food drive is inspiring to all involved, the logistics behind it run like a well-oiled machine.
First, the Student Council prints a handbook that outlines all of the rules and guidelines of the drive, including the year's theme. Then, for two weeks, students collect items and donations, bringing them in by the dozens until the drive is over. Each day is designated for a certain item; canned fruits one day, soup the next, followed by vegetables, etc.
"Local businesses have been very supportive," said Morgan Ward, junior class president, explaining students are motivated to gather local support by the competitive nature of the project. "Every business gave us at least $10."
When all the items are collected, students come together to literally move cans into the gym floor (many students assist the Student Council in doing this) and turn it into a piece of art. They have merely a few short hours to do so. Over the years, some of the themes include
"I have always been amazed by the students' abilities to conceptualize ... Every year I'm just blown away by the details," said Pietkiewicz.
Over the years, there have been some very unique themes. This year's was Disney World.
"We wanted it to fill up the floor so people can see how hard we work," said Megan Parsons, who co-sponsors the Student Council along with Katlin Vega. For years, Miriam Pietkiewicz, Bill's wife, advised the group, however she turned over the reins in favor of a supporting role after last year's drive.
"Ms. P. has been wonderful to help us remember the small things that make this come together," added Vega. "We couldn't have done it without her."
Miriam, along with Bill, enjoyed their supporting roles this year. Both agree that what makes the drive so gratifying for them year after year, is seeing how many generations the drive has involved; how many lives touched.
"As a SCHS student and class officer I had fun participating in the (food drive) with my classmates," Jennings said. "And now, as a SCHS teacher, it is a true joy to see some of my classmates' children bring in cans and building the displays. It comes full circle, and the tradition of giving continues. Amazing."
59,000 -- highest number of cans collected in 2 years
2 -- number of weeks reserved to collect cans
3 -- number of hours students have to make their display
1,000 -- cans collected in 1981
28,166 -- items collected this year
$1.8 million -- number of dollars used to help locals in need through Good Sam
11,200 -- number of people assisted by Good Sam each year
2004 -- The year students traded in individual class displays for one massive display. It was the year student Brock Elliott had unexpectedly passed away and students felt inspired to unite and combine efforts.
1991 -- 10,810 items collected