Organizers: Punkin Chunkin festival to return to Sussex

This 2014 photo shows the official Punkin Chunkin trophy. (Sussex Post/Glenn Rolfe)

This 2014 photo shows the official Punkin Chunkin trophy. (Sussex Post/Glenn Rolfe)

BRIDGEVILLE — Organizers have announced that Punkin Chunkin, a popular festival in which teams compete to fling pumpkins, will return to Sussex County after a two-year absence.

News outlets report that the event will be held Nov. 4-6 at the same Bridgeville farm where it was held for years.

Landowner Dale Wheatley had decided to stop hosting the festival following a personal injury lawsuit in 2013, but World Championship Punkin Chunkin president Frank Payton says that an insurance policy is in place to protect the landowner. The lawsuit was later dismissed.

Mr. Payton also says onlookers who attend the event will no longer be allowed to bring alcohol, but beer will be sold on the grounds.

More than 100 teams have signed up to compete in the event.

The problem of securing affordable insurance for the event appeared to have been resolved recently, according to Mr. Payton.

As of January, the only challenge was finding a location to stage the annual event, which revolves around a competition involving contraptions that hurl pumpkins through the air.

Punkin Chunkin started in 1986 but was scratched in 2014 when its seven-year host, Wheatley Farms in Bridgeville, chose not to host the event after a spotter from the previous year’s competition sustained serious injuries on the property and sued the property owners.

Determined to keep the event going, the association searched throughout Delaware and neighboring states to find a new home. It appeared the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway, also host to the Firefly and Big Barrel music festivals, would be a good fit.

But the connection was made too late to host a quality 2014 event, so the organizers chose to skip one year and resume with a well-planned 2015 event.

As planning with the speedway got underway in early 2015, it seemed the event was on track to be held in Kent County in November 2015. However, as the event neared, the association was unable to secure adequate insurance for the event.

“What it came down to was that since we were working with a corporate entity and would have machines and alcohol on the property, our insurance options were going to be more than $100,000, which is just too much for a nonprofit organization like ours,” Mr. Payton said in January.

Concerned not only about the financial hit to the association, but also what it would do to its charitable fund, the association abandoned the idea of working with the speedway.
The event was canceled a month before the scheduled date.

According to local lore, the Chunk grew out of an argument among Sussex County friends over who could toss a pumpkin the farthest. The tale is that John Ellsworth, a Lewes blacksmith, and friends Trey Melson and Bill Thompson started arguing about it and Mr. Ellsworth threw his hat down on the ground.

His friends stomped on the hat and a Delaware tradition was born.

What started as an impromptu local contest grew through the years to include competitors who come from around the country to use air cannons, medieval contraptions and other devices to hurl pumpkins.

In later years it was broadcast on cable networks, including the Discovery and Science channels.

The event also raises money for scholarships and charities. At its board meeting last week not only were new officers and board members elected, but the association also announced the distribution of money acquired in 2015. Bless Our Children Foundation received $1,000 and $500 went to Delaware Autism and Clothing Our Kids.

According to the association, it has given $1 million to charity since 2000.

“To make this happen, it isn’t only about what the actual organization does, it’s also about community support and support from our teams, and they’ve understood our plight the past couple years and have stood by us,” Mr. Payton said.

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