Punkin Chunkin seeds planted with friendly challenge

BRIDGEVILLE — The now international phenomena had a somewhat obscure birth.

A backyard in Georgetown, Delaware is where World Championship Punkin Chunkin began.

A few friends with competitive juices and some innovative creativity assembled in 1986 to see how far they could make pumpkins fly.

When John Ellsworth’s hat was stomped back in 1986, it became the shot heard ‘round the world.

The owner of Preservation Forge in Lewes was in his blacksmith shop with Trey Melson, Don Pepper and Bill Thompson when, for some reason, the conversation got around to who could come up with a contraption that would hurl a pumpkin the farthest. Mr. Ellsworth contended that he would be victorious should such a contest arise.

Harry Thompson of Harbeson examines his air cannon named Iron Tiger at the Punkin Chunkin field in Bridgeville. Punkin Chunkin returns for its 29th edition today through Sunday at Wheatley Farms, a 1,000-plus acre farm east of Bridgeville, after a two-year absence. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Harry Thompson of Harbeson examines his air cannon named Iron Tiger at the Punkin Chunkin field in Bridgeville. Punkin Chunkin returns for its 29th edition today through Sunday at Wheatley Farms, a 1,000-plus acre farm east of Bridgeville, after a two-year absence. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“I threw my hat on the ground,” Mr. Ellsworth told the Delaware State News in 2000. “They stomped it and accepted the challenge.”

“Friendly,” says World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association spokesman Frank Shade. “They all were. Every one of them — friendly rivalry between people enjoying other people’s company.”

Punkin Chunkin returns today through Sunday for the 29th edition after a two-year homeless absence precipitated by liability and insurance concerns stemming from a 2013 lawsuit filed on behalf of a volunteer worker who was seriously injured in the 2011 event.

The World Championship Punkin Chunkin trophy will be up for grabs this weekend. (Delaware State News file photo)

The World Championship Punkin Chunkin trophy will be up for grabs this weekend. (Delaware State News file photo)

It’s back at Wheatley Farms, a 1,000-plus acre farm east of Bridgeville.

More than 100 machines of all shapes sizes and names are returning.

Punkin Chunkin organizers anticipate that will hold for spectators eager to pacify their gourd-hurling fix and a goal of a new world record. The current mark, set in 2013, is 4,694.68 feet from the American Chunker air cannon.

Frank Payton, president of the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association, believes the timing is right.

“I think it is an addiction,” said Mr. Payton. “It is also a good time of the year where there is not a lot of stuff going on. It is right after summer and it’s before the holidays, the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. So I think it is a prime time to put on a great show. And that great show is called Punkin Chunkin.”

While now imitated worldwide, Punkin Chunkin was the first and largest annual gourd-hurling competition.

It has survived.

The Chunk weathered the mud and muck delivered by Superstorm Sandy in early November 2012. While the powerful storm impacted attendance it did not dampen the spirit of the competition.

Punkin Chunkin has persevered through a number of moves.

Since 2007, the Chunk has been staged in Bridgeville at the Wheatley property. Prior to that it was held in the Millsboro area. It has had several other homes. Signs along U.S. 13 will direct attendees to the event location.

Since its birth in 1986 at the old Thompson farm in Georgetown, Punkin Chunkin has evolved into a world-famous attraction. It draws tens of thousands of spectators while attracting the interest of Discovery Science channel.

Teams from across the nation and even a few from abroad have competed.

This year’s competition will feature the return of a family from Australia teaming up as The Chunka From Down Unda in one of the youth divisions.

Crews with Discovery Science will be on hand all three days of the competition in preparation for a prime-time airing the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The special three-hour special will air Nov. 26 at 8 p.m.

Punkin Chunkin returns with some noticeable changes pertaining to carry-on alcoholic beverages, tailgating/camping and the prohibition of certain straddle-type vehicles.

“We’re hoping that everybody’s excitement will rejuvenate itself and they’ll come out to the event,” said Mr. Shade, former president of the association. “While it sounds like there is a lot of changes they are only because it hasn’t been seen for the two years now. So it is all for the better. The alcohol thing is for the better. It’s one of those situations where we just had to pull up the reins real hard.  We’ve stopped the horse while it was running away. Now we start to get back on a pace.”

“It took us 28 years to get to where we were. It only took it two years to wipe it out,” said Mr. Shade. “So now we are starting again. We have a really good event with a lot of teams that want to be involved. It will be family-oriented, crowd-pleasing excitement with people all types of contraptions trying to throw a 10-pound pumpkin almost a mile.”

Tickets to the event are $10 today, $15 Saturday and $15 Sunday.

For more information, visit www.punkinchunkin.com.

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