Punkin Chunkin may return after all

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Punkin Chunkin Association 2016 board includes trustee Ray Tolson (sitting, from left) founder and trustee Bill Thompson and trustee Judy Simpson and IT officer Rich King (standing, from left), Vice President Frank Shade, Treasurer Terry Brewster, Secretary David Quigley, trustee Deb Daffner, Sergeant of Arms Howard Brewster Jr., Parliamentarian George Russ, President Frank Payton and trustees Jake Burton, Kenny Hopkins and Ricky Neitubicz. (Submitted photo/Rich King)

DOVER — Thanks to a determined “Save the Chunk” effort, officials say the World Punkin Chunkin Association is close to staging a comeback from its two-year hiatus.

The problem of securing affordable insurance for the event appears resolved, according to newly elected association president Frank Payton.

The only challenge now is finding a location to stage the one-time annual event which revolves around a competition involving contraptions that hurl pumpkins through the air. It’s scheduled for Nov. 4-6.

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 and 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 but 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 Friday.

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.

Meanwhile, the search for area farmland to use as the pumpkin battlefield resumed.

“Working with a farm instead of a corporation will lower our insurance rates to less than half of what we were looking at with Dover (International Speedway),” Mr. Payton said.

He said the association is in talks with two contenders — one in Sussex County and the other in Maryland. Even though one of the sites is in Maryland, Mr. Payton said the main focus is to actually get the event up and running again whether it’s in Sussex County or a nearby area.

“If it can’t be a Sussex County tradition, we are hopeful that it can remain a Delmarvalous tradition,” Mr. Payton said in a press release.

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.

The association has been impressed with the support it received especially after the letdown of 2015, he said. Only three of the usual 100-plus teams have abandoned the Chunk since its first cancellation in 2014 and teams from all over the country are in line to fill the vacancies.

“I’m extremely optimistic, but I’m not getting my hopes too high until there’s ink on the paper,” Mr. Payton said.

And once the ink is dry, the association is hoping the Science Channel again will cover the event in prime time to allow the entire country a glimpse of the Chunk.

“They’ve expressed interest in coming back to cover it, but just like us, no definite plans can be made until our location is set in stone,” Mr. Payton said.

A location will be announced as soon as a contract is signed, he said.

For updates, visit punkinchunkin.com. For additional information on getting involved in Save the Chunk, email info@punkinchunkin.com

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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