PITTSTON — Battle-worn tomato tossers trudged wearily away, dripping with sauce, after defending their honor in one of the Pittston Tomato Festival’s most widely recognized features, the tomato fights.
There wasn’t a clean shirt to be found in the Robert E. Conroy Parking Lot on Saturday. A few minutes earlier, about 150 goggled assailants armed themselves with cases of rotten tomatoes and rushed center court at the sound of the horn for 15 unbroken minutes of sauce-soggy chaos. Hundreds more people surrounded the court outside Cooper’s Seafood House, snapping pictures and dodging wayward tomatoes.
Tomato fighters of all ages had strutted around before the fights. Some wore shirts with a parody of the popular British saying that read “Keep calm and throw tomatoes.”
Joe Frederick, 26, of Wyoming adjusted his goggles and set his head-mounted camera ready to record the melee. It was Frederick’s first tomato fight. He wasn’t nervous but he shifted his weight as he eyed the open boxes soon to be his vegetable arsenal.
It was Anne Marie Conroy’s first tomato fight, too. The Pittston native, who turns 80 next week, wore a football helmet over her goggles. Her family gathered around their fearless matriarch to take pictures while her shirt was still white. Family members said they were astounded when Conroy said she wanted be in the tomato fight for her 80th birthday.
The parking lot where the battle ensued was named after her late husband, Robert Conroy, who sat on the Tomato Festival committee for years. Committee President Lori Nocito said he was an integral part of coordinating the festival until his death in 2005.
Anne Marie Conroy set a tomato on her husband’s tombstone Friday as she does every year during the Tomato Festival. The festival was very important to him, she said.
Crews from chef Allison Fishman Task’s video blog “Blue Ribbon Hunters” looked for the best spot to set up their cameras. The TV-for-web program features festivals and food events around the country. The chef is putting a show together about the Tomato Festival for her blog, one of the Yahoo! website’s video features.
All proceeds from the tomato fights’ $5-entry fee go to Pittston charities.
Paul Cooper, owner of Cooper’s Seafood House, rounded up out-of-date tomatoes from his restaurant suppliers. The tomatoes, acquired for free, would have been thrown out if it weren’t for the tomato fights.