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Moriches 'Great Pumpkin' decorating contest delights kids for 40 years

Moriches Elementary School art teacher Linda Lee Tucci describes the traditional school pumpkin contest on Tuesday. Credit: James Carbone

The pumpkin-decorating contest has evolved at Moriches Elementary School over four decades, from John Travolta pumpkins in the seventies to Ninja Turtles in the nineties to one resembling a Starbucks coffee cup this year.

On Tuesday, third-grader Angelina Malave proudly displayed her rendition of "Olaf," the funny snowman in the movie "Frozen." The Mastic 8-year-old said she used a pumpkin painted white for the head, and another for the belly. 

Julianna and Jackson Merrick's entry resembled the crab from the movie "Moana," colored with sparkling gold paint. Another featured a version of Captain Underpants, replete with a pair of underwear around the orange gourd.

The Great Pumpkin Contest has been a treasured tradition at Moriches Elementary. Art teacher Linda Lee Tucci helped introduce the first one in 1978, and she's seen every one since.

"I know pumpkins," she said.

This year featured some 70 entries reviewed by 16 anonymous judges. Students, some of whose parents competed when they attended here, started preparing as soon as school started. They repeatedly asked Tucci when the contest begins because once a pumpkin is carved it quickly starts to rot and smell.

"They are judged on originality, creativity and craftsmanship," Tucci said.

Tucci believes the school may have the longest history of holding pumpkin-decorating contests. She's preparing a 20-page application to Guinness World Records to see if they'll recognize the school.

Tucci waited three years to submit the application. She said she knew Guinness wanted proof, but she only recently came upon a faded black-and-white photo of her holding the first contest in 1978. (The school missed one year.)

"I feel confident," she said. "I've only found one other district, and they've been doing it only 30 years."

A spokeswoman for Guinness said she was unable to locate a record related to that specific theme. So Tucci's application may be the first.

Pumpkin-decorating has changed over the years and Tucci has seen it all. 

"There's been an evolution in the use of technology, subject manner and supplies," she said, sitting in her class in Room 50, wearing an big orange bow in her hair.

Rylie Meyer, 8, showed an artist's sacrifice when she gave over her blue stuffed bear for the creation she called "Bobbing for Apples." Her mother cooked up some Jell-O to create the water and they put in little apples.

"I painted the pumpkin black," she said.

Her project included a fanciful, high-tech touch: Strings of blinking lights above the two stuffed animals bobbing for apples. 

Principal Deirdre Redding praised the contest as a festive and creative way for students and their parents to collaborate on a school project. The school invites the whole family to participate, she said.

Kids talked about going pumpkin-picking with their folks, and to craft stores to gather the glue, ribbons and paint pens, which Tucci said have supplanted paint brushes over the years.

Third-grader Gabriella Scheifele had first wanted to make a pumpkin carousel, but discovered it had been done before. She said she wanted to be original.

She and her sister, Kayleigh, made the pumpkin into a lion, using black felt for eyebrows and ribbon for a tail. 

"We thought it was really cute," she said. 

Colby Delboy, 5, and his older brother, Bobby, took first-prize Tuesday for what they called "The Way Back Drum Set." The base drum was a pumpkin painted black, with smaller gourds serving as the other drums.

The Delboy brothers, of Moriches, used the tops of little pumpkins as the cymbals, painting them the color bronze.

Colby, who's in kindergarten, talked about his work in the project.

"I helped Dad get the tools," he said. "And I spray-painted the big pumpkin with Mom."

His brother was so overjoyed with their victory, he started jumping up and down and did a dance not unlike the Twist.

"This is the first thing I've won in my life," said Bobby, 7.

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