Suitable site search underway in Punkin Chunkin’s hope to return

SUSSEX COUNTY – Punkin Chunkin, the world-famous gourd-hurling tradition born in Sussex County more than 30 years ago, is aiming to return in 2019 – if not in Delaware or on Delmarva then somewhere in America.

The sanctioning World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association announced via social media Friday, “We are back!” and the search is on for land suitable as a staging venue.

“Obviously, we would like to still be a Delaware tradition,” Frank Payton, Punkin Chunkin Association president said Friday. “If we can’t be a Delaware tradition, we would like to be a Delmarva tradition.”

Due to insurance/liability issues and logistics, the fall spectacle has been held just once in the past five years – in 2016 at the Wheatley Farm property in rural Bridgeville.

On the final day of the 2016 event, one of the air cannons malfunctioned and Suzanne Dakessian, a 39-year-old female employee for a company filming the event, was critically injured when she was struck in head by the metal trap door from that explosion. A federal lawsuit filed on Ms. Dakessian’s behalf has been resolved, Punkin Chunkin Association noted in its release.

“We are not able to address any inquiries related to the termination of the litigation except to say that the case was resolved with no admission or finding of liability on the Association’s part,” Punkin Chunkin Association stated on its Facebook site.

In the release the PCA stated, “the past two years have been the hardest on our non-profit organization, both mentally and financially, following the unfortunate incident in 2016 and the ensuing litigation. However, the board remains committed, and our membership is still intact. It is this type of commitment and loyalty within our organization that compels us to move forward. We collectively feel that there is something about tradition that is worth fighting for.”

“We have stayed commitment. The board is still intact. The membership is still intact,” said Mr. Payton. “We were just waiting, biding our time.”

To stage an event the magnitude of the “Chunk,” a minimum 600 acres would be required for parking, camping, vending and participants. Less land could be utilized “with some creative thinking,” the PCA noted.

And there is interest.

“Yes, we have been in touch with several community leaders throughout the country, having interest in our event,” Mr. Payton said. “We’ve heard from Ohio. We have heard from Arizona, to name a few.”

A major pumpkin-hurling event was staged in Aurora, Colorado in 2018. “Colorado is the second-biggest event compared to ours,” Mr. Payton said.

The Punkin Chunkin Association hopes to stay in Delaware, or possibly become an Eastern Shore tradition benefitting from laws in Maryland and Virginia for non-profits.

“And like we stated in our news release, we just hope to remain an American tradition,” Mr. Payton said.

Punkin Chunkin was not held in 2014 or 2015 amid 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.

In 2016, Punkin Chunkin had its sights set on rural farmland in Dorchester County, Maryland as a potential venue.

“The community of Dorchester was very promising,” said Mr. Payton. “Right when we were making a commitment to go there, that is when the Bridgeville farm became available again to us in 2016.”

Efforts to stage the event on Dover International Speedway property in 2014-15 never panned out. “The logistics for moving that event to a commercialized place like that, it was just not within our budget,” said Mr. Payton.

Planted in 1986 as a friendly competition to see who could wing a pumpkin the furthest, Punkin Chunkin evolved into an international spectacle, drawing during its heyday tens of thousands of spectators annually and more than 100 gourd-launching competitors with various contraptions from across the United States and beyond.

“Where do we go from here?” the Punkin Chunkin Association stated in its release. “We need options and your support. The immediate obstacle in determining if we can hold a 2019 championship is land. If you feel that you can help Punkin Chunkin continue, please email info@punkinchunkin.com. We have volunteers eager to hear what you have to say.”

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