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Morton Punkin Chuckin' Contest turns 10 years old          Send a link to a friend

[OCT. 19, 2006]  MORTON -- Who would have thought 10 years ago that "punkin chuckin'" would have brought the village of Morton such fame and fun?

In the early 1990s, Scott Witzig, then Morton Chamber of Commerce director, researched the unusual sport of punkin chuckin' -- the building of machines to hurl pumpkins as far as they could go. Punkin chuckin' was already a favorite in the town of Lewes, Del., where it developed from throwing anvils to throwing pumpkins -- a fun way to get rid of the unused Halloween gourds. Since Morton, the "Pumpkin Capital of the World," already grew, canned and celebrated the pumpkin, it was a natural fit to "chuck" them. And so, in September 1996, punkin chuckin' in Morton was born. The first few years it was done during the Pumpkin Festival in the fields that are now the Morton Business Park on North Main Street.

As Morton gets ready to celebrate its 10th annual Punkin' Chuckin' Contest on Saturday and Sunday, it is interesting to look back at some contest history. Bet you didn't know that the now-famous Q-36 Pumpkin Modulator didn't win that first Morton contest. The team had a problem getting the machine to the contest site in time to get it set up to compete because it wouldn't fit under the overpass of Interstate 74. The team did treat the community to an exhibition on Saturday, and everyone had a great time watching pumpkins fly out of the barrel of the cannon. In early November that year, the Q-36 team, along with family, friends and a few curious representatives of Morton, journeyed to the World Championship Punkin Chunkin' Contest in Lewes, Del. Q-36 won both the distance and target contests and was featured on the CBS "Morning" program, which was the first of many national TV appearances for the team, including a spot a few years later on the "Late Show with David Letterman."

The Acme Catapult Company team, which was a group of guys who worked for Morton Metalcraft, represented their company well at the first Morton event in 1996, winning the contest title. They have become an independent punkin chuckin' phenomenon as they also travel around the United States throwing pumpkins, watermelons and even appliances. They traveled to California in 2003 to perform on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show," where they threw big appliances and a basket of honeydew melons with the help of guest Dolly Parton. Nice work, if you can get it.

The Morton Punkin Chuckin' Contest has been promoted on radio stations in Japan, Australia and London, to name a few of the many places interested in this sport. The Morton event has also been covered by the Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, London Times, Newsweek, Popular Mechanics and Maxim magazines, as well as featured on WGN-TV's New Year's Eve 2000 special and the popular "Illinois Adventure" show on PBS.

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In 2000, the contest had to be canceled due to the business development north of I-74 and the lack of pumpkin-hurling space. Still, the Morton Chamber of Commerce did radio interviews on stations all over the world, asking if the contest would return the following year.

In 2001, the contest returned, moving to the corner of Allentown and Springfield roads in rural Morton and to the month of October. Corn and beans were harvested by then, there was a mile and a half to throw a pumpkin, and there were opportunities for other fall family activities, such as a 17-acre corn maze and a "U-pick" pumpkin farm. What a hit! That year, the Q-36 shot a record 4,859 feet, which has never been broken. In 2005, the Acme Catapult Company shot their all-time best shot of 2,066 feet, which was a world record for about two weeks before a team broke that record at the Delaware World Championship Punkin Chunkin' Contest. Breaking distance records is what this sport is all about. Break a recordů so someone else can break your recordů so you can aim for more distance the next time.

The many different teams that join the competition each year at punkin chuckin' are what make standing in the middle of a corn or bean field for three days so appealing. Participants are friendly, fun, inventive, creative, meticulous, adventurous, competitive, young and old, friends, family, and perhaps just a little nuts. They are what make this event so great. If you've never taken the time to come out and see what punkin chuckin' is all about, gather up your family and some friends, a few lawn chairs, and your appetite for pumpkin delights.

Gates open at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The contest starts around noon, and shooting goes to dusk at the corner of Allentown and Springfield roads in Tazewell County. Admission is $5 per vehicle. Enjoy the ingenuity of the teams, great food (including pumpkin delights), hayrack rides to Green Acres Farm for U-pick pumpkins, crafts and fall decorations, a 17-acre corn maze, and fabulous memories for the family, the teams and the out-of-town guests. About 500 pumpkins will be thrown -- some for competition, some for fun -- but all with the goal of learning how to make it go farther than anyone else's.

Millions of people have watched and read about this event over the years. Come on out and see it for yourself.

To learn more, visit www.pumpkincapital.com or call 888-765-6588.

[Morton Chamber of Commerce news release]

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