After Considering Ocean City, Punkin Chunkin Moving West

OCEAN CITY — The World Punkin Chunkin Championship will not be coming to Ocean City after all as organizers announced on Tuesday they were moving the event to Illinois.

For decades, the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association hosted the iconic annual fall event in rural areas of neighboring Delaware, but it has been without a home since 2016 when a television producer was injured and later sued. The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed and the association was cleared of any fault, but finding a new home has remained a challenge.

Last month, the Ocean City Mayor and Council somewhat reluctantly gave conceptual approval to hosting the popular fall event at the Inlet, with the air cannons, catapults and trebuchets launching pumpkins out into the ocean. The town’s elected officials supported the concept, but wanted several questions answered before signing off on the event including safety, liability issues, the size of the event relative to the space available at the Inlet and other issues.

Now about a month later, the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association announced on Tuesday it is moving the event, which has been held on Delmarva for decades, to Illinois this November.

“It’s official,” the association’s statement reads. “The World Punkin Chunkin Championship is leaving Delaware. The team captains voted on a change of venue to the village of Rantoul, Illinois. This is our event’s fourth change of venue since 1986. For over 33 years, we have called Sussex County, Del. our home, but the chunk must go on. With many other Punkin Chunkin-related events going on, there needs to be a world championship.”

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By way of background, Punkin Chunkin includes all manner of catapults, trebuchets and even high-powered air cannons launching pumpkins great distances, as far as 4,000 feet, in some cases. For years, it was held at different farms in rural Delaware, creating a weekend-long festival of sorts with camping, tail-gaiting and watching the spectacle, which has gained national and even worldwide attention.

Most recently, the event was held at the Wheatley Farm in Bridgeville, Del., and organizers attempted to find other locations in order to keep the fall staple on Delmarva. For example, in late April, TEAM Productions’ Bob Rothermel appeared before the Mayor and Council along with organizer Dawn Thompson to pitch the idea of hosting the annual Punkin Chunkin world championships at the Inlet with pumpkins launched into the ocean.

At that meeting, Thompson said she had nearly exhausted every opportunity to keep the event on the Lower Shore and the Ocean City concept was likely her last option. The council voted unanimously at the time to give tacit approval to the concept with the caveat many questions be answered before any final approval was granted. She hinted at the time the association was considering moving the event to Illinois if a solution on Delmarva did not present itself.

“My next choice is Illinois,” Thompson said at the time. “I’d hate to move the event out of this area, but if we can’t do it in Ocean City, we’ll have to move it somewhere.”

That premonition became reality on Tuesday when the association announced its plans to move the event to Rantoul, Illinois in November. The association’s statement said 70% of the team captains voted to move the event to Illinois, while 30% voted against the move.

The World Punkin Chunkin Championships will be held at the former Chanute Air Force Base, which was acquired by the village of Rantoul after it was closed down in 1993. In the statement, the association said it respected the decision of the farm owners in Bridgeville for not renewing the event.

“We want to thank everyone for their support over the years,” the statement reads. “Most recently, we want to thank those that came forward in Delaware and Maryland in trying to keep the event on Delmarva. Unfortunately, our unique event requires large tracts of land. The Wheatley’s 600-acre property in Bridgeville has served us well to date. We are supportive of the landowner’s decision to not continue to host the event.”

The association’s statement regaled the accomplishments of Punkin Chunkin over the years and its contributions to the local economy.

“It has been our non-profit’s mission to conduct our annual event and give funds back to the community in the form of donations and scholarships for children,” the statement reads. “Since our inception, we have contributed over $1 million in donations and scholarships. Our economic impact on the community has been incalculable, drawing tens of thousands of spectators and participants from around the world.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.