Participants agree: Pittston Tomato Fights even better in rain

By Geri Gibbons - For Times Leader
Tori Para, 14, of Pittston, helps Mia Marriggi, 14 of Duryea, prepare for Saturday’s Tomato Fights in the Cooper’s Waterfront parking lot in Pittston as part of the ongoing Tomato Festival. - Tony Callaio | For Times Leader
Spectators cover themselves from the driving rain as participants pelt each other with tomatoes during Saturday’s Tomato Fights. - Tony Callaio | For Times Leader
Emily Wanko, of West Pittston, gets set to toss another tomato. - Tony Callaio | For Times Leader
This tomato tosser eyes up a photographer during Saturday’s Tomato Fights at the Cooper’s Waterfront parking lot in Pittston. - - Tony Callaio | For Times Leader
Kevin Lamb, of New Jersey, dons his portable camera to record his experience during Saturday’s Pittston Tomato Fights, which are part of the ongoing Tomato Festival. - - Tony Callaio | For Times Leader
Despite some heavy rain that hampered participants and spectators, the Pittston Tomato Fights took place at the Cooper’s Waterfront parking lot Saturday as part of the ongoing Tomato Festival. - - Tony Callaio | For Times Leader
This woman used a cardboard box lid as a shield as she threw a tomato at her opponents during Saturday’s Tomato Fights in Pittston. - - Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

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.”

Tori Para, 14, of Pittston, helps Mia Marriggi, 14 of Duryea, prepare for Saturday’s Tomato Fights in the Cooper’s Waterfront parking lot in Pittston as part of the ongoing Tomato Festival.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_Fights-2-1.jpgTori Para, 14, of Pittston, helps Mia Marriggi, 14 of Duryea, prepare for Saturday’s Tomato Fights in the Cooper’s Waterfront parking lot in Pittston as part of the ongoing Tomato Festival. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

Spectators cover themselves from the driving rain as participants pelt each other with tomatoes during Saturday’s Tomato Fights.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_Fights-3-1.jpgSpectators cover themselves from the driving rain as participants pelt each other with tomatoes during Saturday’s Tomato Fights. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

Emily Wanko, of West Pittston, gets set to toss another tomato.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_Fights-4.jpgEmily Wanko, of West Pittston, gets set to toss another tomato. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

This tomato tosser eyes up a photographer during Saturday’s Tomato Fights at the Cooper’s Waterfront parking lot in Pittston.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_Fights-5.jpgThis tomato tosser eyes up a photographer during Saturday’s Tomato Fights at the Cooper’s Waterfront parking lot in Pittston. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

Kevin Lamb, of New Jersey, dons his portable camera to record his experience during Saturday’s Pittston Tomato Fights, which are part of the ongoing Tomato Festival.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_Fights1.jpgKevin Lamb, of New Jersey, dons his portable camera to record his experience during Saturday’s Pittston Tomato Fights, which are part of the ongoing Tomato Festival. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

Despite some heavy rain that hampered participants and spectators, the Pittston Tomato Fights took place at the Cooper’s Waterfront parking lot Saturday as part of the ongoing Tomato Festival.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_Pittston-Tomato-Fights-TL-1.jpgDespite some heavy rain that hampered participants and spectators, the Pittston Tomato Fights took place at the Cooper’s Waterfront parking lot Saturday as part of the ongoing Tomato Festival. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

This woman used a cardboard box lid as a shield as she threw a tomato at her opponents during Saturday’s Tomato Fights in Pittston.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_Pittston-Tomato-Fights-TL-3.jpgThis woman used a cardboard box lid as a shield as she threw a tomato at her opponents during Saturday’s Tomato Fights in Pittston. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

By Geri Gibbons

For Times Leader