PITTSTON – Rain did not deter competitors in Pittston’s annual Tomato Fights on Saturday, as they made their way to Cooper’s Waterfront parking lot for a competition described as both contained and chaotic.
To Lori Epler, who travels from the Lehigh Valley every year for the festival and especially for the Fights, tomato-fighting in the rain was simply a new experience.
Waiting for the fight to start, taking temporary refuge under an umbrella, a smiling Epler said: “This is great and we’ll stay clean.”
Epler and husband Jerry have attended the festival for over 10 years, often making the hour-long journey to Pittston with other family members.
Lori Epler is a fierce competitor; Jerry Epler is an enthusiastic spectator.
Jerry has considered participating, but Lori doesn’t know if he has what it takes.
“He’d be a great competitor,” she said. “But I don’t know about making the trip home covered in tomatoes.”
As years go by, Epler’s enthusiasm has never waned and her technique has improved.
“I’m getting more strategic,” she said. “I make eye contact with those on the other side of the parking lot.”
Event organizer Lori Nocito said the Tomato Fights, in their 15th year, are always a highlight of the four-day event, even in the face of weather challenges.
“We use only tomatoes that would have otherwise been thrown away,” she said. “A hundred cases of them.”
Nocito said 150 people ages 15 and up head to Cooper’s each year for a fierce, but friendly, competition.
The nominal entry fees, with proceeds going to local charities, cover both goggles and a T-shirt.
Sharon Antoniou, of East Haven, Connecticut, said she first heard about the Pittston spectacle when Googling “tomato fights.”
“We were looking up tomato fights in Buñol, Spain, and this popped up,” she recalled. “This is a lot closer.”
Antoniou isn’t afraid of competition and she’s not afraid of tomatoes, no matter how squishy they might be.
“Last year, I laid down and made a tomato angel at the end of the event,” she said.
Emily Wanko, of West Pittston, and her friends gathered at the festival for one last “fling” before heading back to college.
This was Wanko’s first year participating in the fights, and she enjoyed spending time with friends in such a fun environment.
“The rain made it even better,” she said. “I’d definitely do it again.”