Punkin Chunkin in trouble

BRIDGEVILLE — One of Delaware’s most memorable traditions could be coming to an end.

Punkin Chunkin, which has seen several attendees suffer high-profile injuries in recent years, may not be continuing after this November, the group behind the event announced Thursday.

The Science Channel, which provided a quarter of the funding, dropped the event after a woman was seriously injured when an air cannon exploded in 2016.

“In life, there are uncertainties in everything we do,” World Punkin Chunkin Championship Association President Frank Payton said in a statement. “Punkin Chunkin is not an exception. 2013 or even last year could have been the last year. We know that the event will happen again in 2017, but without an outpouring of worldwide community financial support, we are in trouble.”

In 2013, a man who was injured while riding an all-terrain vehicle in 2011 filed a lawsuit against Punkin Chunkin organizers and Bridgeville’s Wheatley Farm, the site that held the event from 2007 to 2013. The lawsuit was later dismissed.

In response to the suit, the 2014 chunk was canceled, while the 2015 one was moved to the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway. However, organizers struggled to find insurance coverage and so canceled the event a month before its planned date.

The chunk was held back at Wheatley Farms in 2016 but was marred by the air cannon malfunction.

The Science Channel opted not to air its planned special on the event after the accident, which resulted in a 39-year-old woman being hit by metal debris from a cannon. When the association announced the 2017 dates in February, it noted the Science Channel’s departure raised questions about where funding would come from.

The organization has enough funding to host the 32nd iteration of Punkin Chunkin this fall from Nov. 3 to Nov. 5, but it is struggling to find money to keep it going beyond 2017.

As a result, it is seeking contributions and urging all interested parties to visit www.punkinchunkin.com or email info@punkinchunkin.com for details. Sponsorships start at $250.

“We learned our lesson from being dependent on a single entity for the majority of our funding. As much as we appreciated the relationship, we ended up suffering in the long run,” World Punkin Chunkin Championship Association Vice President David Quigley said in a statement.

In the wake of the 2013 lawsuit and the 2014 and 2015 cancellations, the World Punkin Chunkin Championship Association was trying to change the event into a more family-friendly happening promoting science, technology, engineering and math.

According to the group, it has donated more than $1 million to community organizations and scholarships since 2000.

Scott Thomas, executive director of Southern Delaware tourism, said Sussex hotel occupancy was up 12 percent in November 2016 compared to the previous year, when there was no chunk.

“You’re seeing people coming from 40-plus U.S. states, so it really has a far-reaching gravity for Sussex County,” he noted.

Local lore has it that the chunk — called a “redneck holiday” by one participant — stems from an argument between Sussex County friends over who could toss a pumpkin the farthest. The 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.

The current Delaware record for farthest chunk is 4,695 feet — nearly nine-tenths of a mile.

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