Punkin Chunkin is back after a 2-year hiatus

BRIDGEVILLE — “The third time’s a charm,” said World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association president Frank Payton in reference to the association’s third attempt to reboot the ailing Delaware tradition.

As Nov. 4 nears, it appears Mr. Payton may indeed be right.

After two consecutive years of failing to relaunch the Chunk in Dover, Mr. Payton say the event is back where it belongs.

“The thing we’re proudest of is that it’s coming back to Sussex County where it was started and most people agree that it should remain,” he said.

Jeff Caudill of Seaford wears a hat of the Young Glory lll air cannon machine at the Punkin Chunkin in 2013. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Jeff Caudill of Seaford wears a hat of the Young Glory lll air cannon machine at the Punkin Chunkin in 2013. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The Nov. 4-6 event, centered around using catapults, cannons and other launchers to fire pumpkins off into the horizon, has had four homes since it started as a backyard contest in 1986. The competition returns this year to Wheatley farms in Bridgeville where it had been held for the past seven years before stopping after 2013.

The association was suffering from insurance issues that stemmed after a volunteer filed personal injury lawsuit over an ATV incident at the 2011 Chunk. The case was later “dismissed with prejudice,” with the consent of all the parties to the suit, in June 2015.

However, lining up adequate insurance and a proper venue remained tricky.

“A lot of the issues were insurance hurdles,” said Mr. Payton. “The insurance company wasn’t letting us back on the farm with the threat that the farmer would no longer be covered, and we didn’t want to affect his livelihood.”

After long talks with the farmer and negotiations on terms with the insurance company, Mr. Payton said the got to the bottom of it. He said the association signed a lease with the farmer in February of this year and finalized the insurance about a month ago.

Ina Sumner of Waldrof, Md watches a pumpkin fly at the Punkin Chunkin in 2013. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Ina Sumner of Waldrof, Md watches a pumpkin fly at the Punkin Chunkin in 2013. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The Science Channel will be making a reappearance as well this year. “Mythbusters” alumni Kari Byron and Tory Belleci, as well as co-host Kyle Hill will cover the event.

“The Science Channel are a major sponsor and we’ve given them exclusive rights to come out and film the event,” said Mr. Payton. “The show will be simulcast on Science and Discovery on Nov. 26.”

More than 100 teams from around the world are flying in to compete. Bands are lined up throughout each day and both the Pumpkin Cookin Contest and the Chili Cook-Off contest are set. There will also be kids games and the Miss Punkin Chunkin Pageant. Celebrity guest, Tim Smith from the popular show “Moonshiners” will be stopping by the Chunk as well on Saturday.

Strange contraptions are used to launch pumpkins at the Punkin Chunkin in 2012. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Strange contraptions are used to launch pumpkins at the Punkin Chunkin in 2012. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

As they have in the past, the association plans to donate all the proceeds to charitable causes.

“We’re looking at some new charities this year, but in the past we’ve worked with St. Jude’s, St. Baldrick’s Foundation and Autism Delaware,” said Mr. Payton. “The scholarships have been great too. In 2013 we gave over $50,000 in scholarships to the community.”

According to the association, they’ve donated more than $1 million to char ity over the years.

Terry Daleiden, of Ellendale, has been competing in the event with his 15-person team, The Great Gourd Experiment, since 2007. The team built and operates a Trebuchet style apparatus. He looks forward to attending the event this year, but he won’t be competing.

“The main reason is that everyone has too busy of a schedule,” he said. “But after rushing to get ready for the 2014 and 2015 Chunks only to have them canceled at the last minute left us a little gun-shy too.”

Although understanding them, Mr. Daleiden says he also isn’t a huge fan of some of the new policies.

“One of the things that they changed is the alcohol policy — they’re not allowing the general public to bring in their own beer or liquor,” he said. “Really the only way I had to pay my team for their time was to provide beer in our pit. That sort of sealed the deal for some of us.”

This year, instead of BYOB, as the event has been in the past, a new beer garden is being introduced. Mr. Payton said the impetus behind the change was to help make the event more family friendly.

“It’ll clean things up a bit to have a beer garden that serves every local beer you can think of and wine,” he said. “Plus, NKS Distributors and Standard Distributors, which are two major distributors in Delaware, are actually working together for the event.”

Although Mr. Daleiden laments the new alcohol policy, he knows why it’s now in place and also sees it as a potential boon for local breweries.

“I understand completely why they had to do it,” he said. “The drinking out in the general area and parking lot was getting out of hand from what I’ve heard. They also have to do what they have to do for their insurance purposes — we can’t have the event without insurance.

“Besides, I can’t complain too loudly about it, I’m a partner in a brewery out here and they are part of that beer garden.”

Despite deciding not to participate, he has high hopes for the future of the Chunk and looks forward to seeing old chunking friends.

“I have some friends coming up from North Carolina and some from Michigan who always come in with their machine and I am definitely going to get down there to see all them,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how the event goes, and if we can get in next year, maybe we’ll rejoin then.”

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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