Pumpkins in the air

This weekend marks the 25th year people have gathered in local farm fields to win bragging rights for throwing a pumpkin the greatest distance. World Championship Punkin Chunkin is like no other event.

From the first winning throw of 126 feet, the event has grown into something nobody expected – a happening of people who dedicate their lives to launching white and orange orbs.

Sophisticated air cannons, hurling pumpkins nearly a mile, have replaced those early contraptions, and the field of play is now a 1,000-acre farm. The world record, held by Young Glory III, a local team, stands at 4,483 feet.

Thanks to national television exposure from the Discovery/Science Channel, Punkin Chunkin is no longer just a local event: It’s now on the national stage. The network plans three hours of coverage this year with “The Road to Punkin Chunkin” airing Wednesday, Nov. 24, followed by a 2-hour special Thanksgiving Day.

Frank Shade, director of media relations and president for eight years, said it’s hard to point to one reason for the event’s success. “It’s a natural progression of throwing things,” he said. “There is a human fascination to see things that are not supposed to move.”

He said 95 percent of those who attend the event are hooked for life.

The event had an inauspicious start with three teams. In 1986, John Ellsworth, Trey Melson, Bill Thompson, Chuck and Darryl Burton and Donald (Doc) Pepper met on a field near Milton in the first official chunk.

This year’s event, which takes place off Route 404 near Bridgeville, is Friday-Sunday, Nov. 5-7. Competition in a variety of divisions – from human power to trebuchet to air cannon – takes place each day with a team’s best throw, shot or chunk recorded. Some wow the crowds with spectacular shots, while others never get a shot off and still others make “pie” as the pumpkin explodes. Other than chunking, a full slate of activities help to attract as many as 80,000 spectators.  Shade said, based on advanced ticket sales and camping requests, this could be the year the attendance tops the 100,000 mark. “Everyone who attends has one thing in common – they love to see pumpkins fly,” he said.

He also said everyone keeps an eye on the air cannons to see if one can finally eclipse the mythical-mile mark.

The Miss Punkin Chunkin Pageant and pumpkin-cooking contest take place Saturday and the chili cook-off starts at 11 a.m. Sunday. Fireworks to celebrate the 25th anniversary will fill the skies at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Music has also become an important part of the event. This year 12 bands are scheduled to perform, including many local favorites like the Funsters, as well as country music star J.C. Anderson.

After three full days, awards will be presented at 5 p.m. Sunday.

Last year, the Punkin Chunkin Association awarded $25,000 in scholarships to area high school students. In addition, several local nonprofit organizations make money by assisting the army of volunteers needed to put on the event.

Go to  www,punkinchunkin.com for more information.

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