Punkin Chunkin looking for Delmarva-area home

MILTON — Punkin Chunkin is hankering for a homecoming.

Or at least somewhere on Delmarva, closer to its founding roots in Sussex County.

Following a sanctioned, but smaller-sized 2019 event staged in Rantoul, Illinois, the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association is asking to “Bring Us Home.”

“We had a great event in Illinois,” said Frank Payton, president of the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association. “One of the things was we missed a lot of our ‘family,’ because a lot of the other chunkers couldn’t travel that far. I mean it was essentially a 13-hour drive from Delaware.”

“We’re looking to see if we can bring it a little bit closer. A five-hour radius would be better than the 13-hour radius,” said Mr. Payton. “We promised an event in 2019 and we stuck to our promise. And we want to see what we can do to promise another in 2020 — however, closer to home.”

A press release on Punkin Chunkin’s website states, “Our dedicated World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association family worked tirelessly throughout the year to rebuild what many believed to be a lost cause and create an event that instilled pride in the volunteers, teams and fans in attendance. While we consider the 2019 event a success, we also realize that the distance from our ‘home base’ here in Sussex County precluded many people from attending.”

“Before we commit to taking the World Championship on the road in 2020, we want to see if Delmarva can help bring this event closer to home and closer to our dedicated base of volunteers, vendors, teams and fans that supported us for so many years,” Punkin Chunkin’s release states.

To do that, organizers need someplace willing to hold the event with lots of open space.

Much like the property in Bridgeville that hosted the World Championship Punkin Chunkin for more than 15 years, Punkin Chunkin organizers say an ideal location would have up to 600 acres of land that could be utilized for parking, camping, festivities and, most importantly, the competition. While a smaller area could be utilized, a key feature for any prospective property is the ability for the WCPCA to measure “chunked” pumpkins to a one-mile distance of 5,000-plus feet.

Last year’s event – staged at the former Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois – drew about 30 teams. None were from Delaware.

In comparison, there were 110 teams in 2016 – the last time Punkin Chunkin was held in Sussex County, its home for every previous event since its inception in 1986.

Due to legal and logistical issues, Punkin Chunkin has been held only once in Delaware since 2013.

The event was not held in 2014 or 2015 due to liability/insurance hurdles stemming from a 2013 lawsuit filed on behalf of a volunteer spotter who was critically injured in an ATV mishap during the 2011 event.

The 2016 event held on the Wheatley Farm property east of Bridgeville was marred by tragedy. An air cannon malfunction resulted in serious injury to a female filming company employee, who was struck in the head by a piece of metal. That precipitated a lawsuit, which has been resolved, according to the WCPCA.

Punkin Chunkin’s release further states, “Our roots will always be in Delaware, but without needed legislation limiting the liability that nonprofit organizations and landowners leasing their property may be exposed to from frivolous lawsuits, holding the event on private property within the state is not feasible. A partnership with the state of Delaware or one of our counties to hold the event on state/county-owned land would extend such protections to the WCPCA.”

Mr. Payton isn’t ruling out the First State.

“It could be Delaware,” he said. “We just need state entities or county entities to step in and say, ‘Hey, we have this land that lends itself to have additional protection because of the fact that it is on state land. However, outside of that, I would be very leery on having an event on private property, knowing how there is no legislation protecting anybody from any frivolous lawsuits. I would love to see the state of Delaware have tort reform just for nonprofits.”

“It’s going to take more than a couple passionate Punkin Chunkers to bring this back this way. It’s going to take a community,” Mr. Payton said. “It is really up to them.”

If Delaware is once again not an option, WCPCA will continue to expand its search outside of the state, scouring the Delmarva region for a suitable property.

Maryland, Virginia and beyond hold untapped potential for the WCPCA and, in some cases, already have legislation in place that Delaware lacks, Mr. Payton said.

Mr. Payton said a meeting with the Punkin Chunkin Association membership later in February should shed more definitive light on 2020.

“There is not an absolute drop-dead deadline at this point. We’re hoping that people take us seriously enough right now to be able to start the communication to say, ‘Hey, we can start moving in this direction,’” said Mr. Payton. “We do need to announce something sooner than later because people – the people from all around the world that come to our event – need to make plans in order to get here.”

Ultimately, Mr. Payton says it will come to a point where, “if we don’t have anything solidified by a certain date then we’re just going to have to cancel it.”

WCPCA welcomes any ideas or information on a location that would potentially be a good fit.

For more information about World Championship Punkin, visit www.punkinchunkin.com.