‘Punkins’ to fly again in Sussex County

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(Chuck Snyder/for NewsWorks)

(Chuck Snyder/for NewsWorks)

Delaware’s Punkin Chunkin is returning to Bridgeville, where the annual pumpkin-hurling contest all began.

“I am proud to announce that Punkin Chunkin will return to the Wheatley Farm right here in Sussex County in 2016,” said state Senator Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, in an email. “The economic and cultural impact of Punkin Chunkin can’t be understated, and I am thrilled to be part of the ongoing effort to make the event a permanent part of the Sussex County landscape.”

The gourd-slinging competition will be held on Nov. 4-6. World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association board president Frank Payton confirmed that an arrangement with the Wheatleys has been worked out. 

“They have invited us back,” Payton said. “He needed to feel comfortable that we were doing everything in our power to be able to protect him and I think we have conveyed that to him.”

The last time the event was successfully held was in 2013 on the Bridgeville farm. But that year, a volunteer was hurt and the Wheatleys, as well as the WCPCA, were sued.

Subsequently, chunk organizers were forced to find a new venue. Dover International Speedway was selected to host in 2014 and 2015, but problems with logistics and finding an insurer, prompted organizers to cancel Punkin Chunkin two years in a row.

Pettyjohn said neighboring state Maryland tried to woo Punkin Chunkin during the event’s unplanned hiatus.  

“It’s something that started here, it’s something that gained its notoriety and popularity here in Sussex County and I hated to see it move somewhere else.”

“There is a certain level of relief that we are returning to where we have been successfully able to hold the event but we still have a lot ahead of us,” said Payton, referring to the cost of putting on the event.

An insurance policy required to protect the landowner will cost the WCPCA association nearly three times what they previously paid. Costs to host the event have increased over the years, and after not having the event for two years, the association will now start focusing on the budget.

“People need to realize that we are a nonprofit and all the money we make at our annual event is given back,” Payton said. Since 2000, over $1 million has been donated to charities and scholarships for kids seeking degrees, mainly in the agricultural and engineering related fields of study.

Some members of the WCPCA board met with Governor Jack Markell, D-Delaware, and the Delaware Economic Development Office to discuss what assistance can be offered to keep the Delaware tradition going. About 30,000 people attended the 2013 pumpkin toss. 

“All options are being reviewed to make sure to get this event back on track and to ensure its future,” Pettyjohn said. “Fans stayed in Delaware’s hotels, ate at our restaurants, filled up their vehicles at our gas stations and purchased products or services from Delaware businesses.”

The very first Punkin Chunkin was in 1986.

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