Have a chunkin' good time this weekend in Bridgeville
This weekend a longstanding Sussex County tradition, celebrated all over the country and even world, will take place in a field in Bridgeville, Del.
The 27th Annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin is estimated to draw close to 100,000 people from all over the country to watch as 115 machines compete to throw the furthest pumpkin.
“Without a doubt it’s the curiosity of it and a unique event,” said Frank Shade, director of media and promotions. “I’ve said so many times, when you first have a child, when you put a pacifier in their mouth they throw it out. When you give them food they throw it. Toys, they throw them out of the crib. As they get older, we teach them to throw balls, throw fits, temper tantrums. They’re always throwing things. When you become an adult unless you go on to do professional sports, you don’t have anything to throw anymore. We as adults, we found out that we can throw pumpkins and the pumpkins like it. That’s why we do it.”
The event started out a lot smaller in 1986, with four guys sitting around a blacksmith’s shop in Lewes.
“They were discussing medieval games, the throwing of anvils and other archaic backbreaking sports and they overheard some kids in one of the local colleges were throwing pumpkins to raise scholarship money. Being good Sussex Countians they said we should do that but we should build machines to do it,” explained Shade.
The four men then challenged each other, two on two, and planned to meet on the first Saturday after Halloween, when the pumpkins would be plentiful. Since then, the event has grown into a competition known around the world.
“At that first event there were about 80 people in attendance, there were three machines on the field. The winning throw for the day was something like 114 feet,” said Shade. “As of last year we had over 120 machines, over 60 in reserve. The attendance was somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 people on a 1,000 acre farm as opposed to a 30-acre farm the first time. The current world record is 4,483 feet for a ten-pound pumpkin. We have machines that their overall length is over 140 feet, so we have machines that are bigger than the first throw.”
Over the years, the WCPC has given well over $250,000 worth of scholarships to students, averaging between $30,000 to $50,000 yearly for the past few years.
“It has evolved from where we gave a scholarship to a student one year, to our current program where we gave away $50,000 worth of scholarships. When we started the application read you had to be majoring in engineering, agro-science or other chunkin’ related technology,” said Shade, adding that the awardees are now chosen based on an online application that does not address a student’s field of education.
Shade said that competitors have traveled from all over the country, including Colorado, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Florida. And, as it is the World Championship Punkin Chunkin, competitors have even traveled across the pond, from London, England.
“That truly kicked us into the international mode,” said Shade. Noting that the competitors created the chunker on the British television show Scrap Heap Challenge, whose American equivalent is Junk Yard Wars. “They built the machine as part of a challenge and then the producers shipped it over here in a cargo container.”
Once the dust had settled on the field, the U.K. team decided they did not want to spend $30,000 to ship the machine home. So, they auctioned it off and donated the money to Saint Jude’s Children’s Hospital in the competition’s name.
Jeff Wheatley, one of the owners of the Royal Farms where the competition is held, won “United Flingdom,” and has since revamped it and will be competing with it this year, as “United Flingdom III.”
This year, opening remarks and practice rounds will be held on Friday, Nov. 7, with the gates opening to the public at 7:30 a.m. On Nov. 3, the competition will begin at 8 a.m., with opening ceremonies at 10 a.m., with the competition continuing on Nov. 4.
Tickets cost $10 per person and free admittance is given to children ten and under.
The competition has two divisions, youth (ten years and under, and 11 to 17 years old), and adult. In each division there are multiple classes, which include, catapult, trebuchet, centrifugal, and air cannon.
“Each machine gets three competitive shots on each day. But then after all the shots are fired and measured, we allow them to go into what we refer to as free fire, and we take all the spotters, all the human element off the field and the machines can throw a soften and as many pumpkins as they want in any size that they want,” said Shade. Noting that yearly, they supply approximately 4,000 pumpkins to competitors from local farms. “We try to use local growers whenever possible. Many, many of the machines bring their own competitive pumpkins. Ones they’ve gone out and found the right shape, the right size, the right weight for their particular machine, that they find that it’s what they want to use.”
In years past the WCPC has tried to have chunkers compete through accuracy, however officials found it to be too difficult and time consuming, and have stuck purely to distance.
“This may be the year that one of the machines breaks the mythical mile. Everybody is shooting to break the mile.”
Currently, WCPC officials use gps and laser triangulation to measure the distance traveled by the pumpkins, and are working on finding a faster way to measure.
“We have some entities that are working on micro-gps locator chips that might someway attach to the pumpkin. If we could come up with a way to better measure where we didn’t have to physically go to the landing point of each pumpkin and measure that spot.”
Along with the competition itself, there will be carnival rides, pumpkin-themed foods, live stage entertainment, a beauty pageant and over 120 vendors—guaranteeing that most people will have a great amount of fun.
“Ninty-five percent of the people who come to Punkin Chunkin will be hooked for life, never miss another one or they will become a competitor.”
Shade added that he hopes many people will venture out to the farm this weekend and experience the Chunkin, either as a first-timer or a veteran.
“It’s the greatest amount of fun you can have,” said Shade. “You come out and enjoy all the fresh air with 80,000 of your new best friends. Everybody has something in common, and that the fact that they’re going to see pumpkins fly and be entertained by some renaissance rednecks.”
For more information, visit www.punkinchunkin.com.