Pumpkin-launching competition likely to move to Rantoul

Sights such as this — air cannon — could be coming to Rantoul later this year. The World Punkin Chunkin Championships could be moving from Delaware to the former Chanute Air Force Base.

RANTOUL — Morton calls itself the “pumpkin capital of the world.” Rantoul might become the pumpkin-launching (or chunkin) capital of the world.

The World Punkin Chunkin website announced this week the event, founded in 1986, would be moving from Delaware to the grounds of the former Chanute Air Force Base in November.

The announcement, however, is a tad premature, officials with both the association and the village of Rantoul said.

David Quigley, vice president of the association board, said word of the probable move leaked out, so the organizers decided to officially announce it.

Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer said event officials are scheduled to tour the site at the National Aviation Center on June 8. He said both sides are almost positive the championship will be moving to Rantoul.

The association announced May 28 that team captains had voted 70 percent in favor of moving it here.

The championships, which would be held just after Halloween Nov. 1-3, are strictly a charitable event. Quigley said no association officials are paid, and all profits go to charitable causes, including scholarships and other endeavors.

The event started small in the ‘80s when a group of five men got together and built various contraptions to see who could launch pumpkins the farthest on a farm outside of Milton, Del. The “arms race” has proliferated to the extent that the world record is about 4,800 feet, Quigley said.

When looking for a locale for the championships, organizers wanted a place that was at least a mile long. The Rantoul airport fit the bill.

Someplace that could accommodate a lot of people was also needed — Quigley estimating up to 30,000 attended annually in Delaware.

Quigley said anywhere from 100 to 125 contraptions will compete in 13 categories ranging from Adult Air Cannons and Adult Catapults to Youth Trebuchet and Youth Centrifugal.

The event has not been held in Delaware for the past two years following a 2016 accident that critically injured a TV producer for The Science Channel.

The 39-year-old woman was struck in the head when a trap door from an air cannon blew off. A lawsuit was filed against the event, its organizers, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the farm where the event was held. A federal judge dismissed the civil suit with prejudice earlier this year.

While not held in Delaware, the organization sanctioned an event in 2018 in Colorado and permitted it to use the trademark, “Punkin Chunkin Colorado.”

Quigley said event organizers looked at a number of spots across the country. Association President Frank Payton posted a music video on Facebook that led to contacts with Rantoul officials.

The association website said the town’s hospitality and its location were deciding factors in making the move to the Midwest.

Payton said it will also be much cheaper to hold it in Rantoul.

Police and traffic control alone cost the association as much as $90,000 in Delaware, he told The Sussex County Cape Gazette.

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The World Championship Punkin Chunkin could be held in Rantoul this December.

Another benefit is that it would not be held in a farm field. The association has had to work its timeline around crop schedules that reduced setup time in the past.

Quigley said having the championships in the middle of the country could prove to be an advantage, providing easier access for west coast punkin chunkers.

He said competitors from as far away as Australia, Czechoslovakia, the UK and Russia have shipped their equipment to Delaware in the past, and he expects it to happen again. He said many overseas tourists are also likely to visit.

“People love to shoot pumpkins,” he said.

Eisenhauer said discussions between Rantoul and association officials have been ongoing for about two months.

“We have had conversations about what some of our concerns are, having never been to the event or part of the event,” Eisenhauer said. “Very honestly, what has impressed me significantly in each of the conversations I have had is there is a strong emphasis on safety.”

Eisenhauer said some of his concerns have involved the size of the crowd “and exactly what to expect.”

“While it certainly will not exceed what we have with the (Half Century of Progress farm show), it’s still an unknown to us.”

Eisenhauer said Rantoul police officials have also been involved in the talks.

“We’re very excited about hosting the event. One of my strong beliefs is that economic development comes in many forms, and one of those is tourism. ...”

He said he will also seek to involve Visit Champaign County tourism officials.