First Posted: 8/17/2013
Anne Marie Conroy wiped seeds and tomato juice from her goggles last Saturday grinning ear to ear. It was the Pittston native’s first time in the ring at the festival’s Tomato Fights.
Conroy, who turns 80 next week, wore a football helmet over her goggles. Before the vine-ripened onslaught began, 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.
Mrs. Conroy set a tomato on her husband’s tombstone Friday like she does every year during the Tomato Festival. She said the festival was very important to him.
Under a clear sky, about 150 goggled assailants armed themselves with cases of rotten tomatoes and waited for the sound of the horn to rush the center court for 15 unbroken minutes of sauce-soggy chaos.
Tomato fighters of all ages strut proudly around before the fight. 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 on film. It was Frederick’s first tomato fight, too. He wasn’t nervous but he shifted his weight as he eyed up the open permeating boxes soon to be his vegetable arsenal.
Hundreds surrounded the court outside Cooper’s Seafood House snapping pictures and dodging wayward tomatoes. When the dust, and tomatoes, finally settled, they’re wasn’t a clean shirt to be found in the Robert E. Conroy Parking Lot Saturday.
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 fight’s $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Paul Cooper, owner of Cooper’s Seafood House, rounded up out-of-date tomatoes from his restaurant suppliers.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 fight.