Pyros seeking a fireworks pick-me-up in September find their fix at Sky Wars, the US Invitational Fireworks Championship.
For those who’ve never attended this giant Missouri club-shoot-turned-championship, it’s a weekend pyro extravaganza hyper-focused on pyromusical artistry where pyros battle it out for national recognition.
Presented annually by the Missouri Pyrotechnic Association (mopyro.org), the event has ballooned from its roots as the “St. Louis Shoot” in the last 18 years and especially after its rebrand to Sky Wars in 2020. It is now the largest–and one of the only–fireworks competitions in the nation.
Over 10,000 people attended MoPyro’s sold-out 18th championship this year on September 23rd in Innsbrook (located about an hour west of St. Louis). That includes over 1,000 pyros from 31 states.
If this is the first you’re hearing of Sky Wars, its big public night typically goes like this: Three hours. Two championships. Six to ten displays. Tons of fireworks, fireballs, and recently, drones. One hell of a night.
Sky Wars 2023 Recap
A huge congratulations are in order to the 2023 U.S. Fireworks Champions: Pro Am ‘Champion of Champions’ Scott Smith of Cedar Hill, MO and Pro champion Donnie Toms of Wellington, MO with Kansas City Area Pyrotechnics (KCAP).
The displays at Sky Wars this year were simply massive. Over 23,000 e-matches were used across all displays, which included eight pyromusicals and twenty exhibition shells from 7” to 16”. Not to mention, the Fireball Dudes warmed up the crowd with multiple fireball sequences, and Sky Elements dazzled the audience (and cleared the smoke) with a 600-drone light show.
Here’s a brief breakdown of the 2023 US Invitational Fireworks Championship:
National Anthem and 21-Gun Salute
MoPyro outdid themselves with the largest salute to our nation they’ve presented at Sky Wars yet with a 1,400-cue anthem! This opening show was expertly choreographed by Jim Walter.
Pro Am ‘Championship of Champions’
This was the 3rd year in the event’s history that the three previous years’ Pro Am winners came together to compete. 2020 ‘Pro Am’ winner Scott Smith of Cedar Hill, MO took home the 2023 trophy and ‘Champion of Champions’ title after an incredible pyromusical battle between him and his competitor-buddies Mike Allen of Glasgow, KY (2022 winner) and AJ Plata of Sandwich, IL (2021 winner). Scott used some truly innovative techniques in his show, like incorporating a 39-foot scaffolding unit to create some unique effects that none of our seasoned pyros had seen executed before.
Unlike the competitions, this display can feature as many fireworks as the presenting pyro pleases. In his first year presenting on the main field at Sky Wars, Brandon Williams delighted the audience with a brilliant 12-minute 1.4 Unlimited display consisting of over 2,300 cues.
In their second appearance at Sky Wars, Sky Elements brought three times the number of drones from 2022 to present a fantastic large-scale drone light display. Their mythical-themed show did incorporate a few pyro cues and fireballs, although the fireballs couldn’t be used during their dragon scene as planned due to the mortars being placed too close to the drones. We have a feeling there will be an even bigger attempt next year!
The Fireball Dudes
The Tennessee-based Fireball Dudes are a crowd-favorite every single year. Bill Corbett, Scott Key and their fireball family were able to present three fireball sequences on Saturday night before the event was called due to a lightning storm. Their final fireball was shot Sunday morning; it would have been launched Sunday evening along with the final pyromusical, but Bill had to peel early to work a Drake concert the following evening. Yes, you read that correctly.
Pro Display Competition
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, a lightning storm caused this year’s event to unfortunately be cut short. Before Mother Nature could rain on our pyro parade, two of the three Pro competitors were able to launch their shows: Tim Traphagen of Indianapolis, IN with Casabella Pyrotechnics and David Anglin of Mishawaka, IN with RKM Fireworks each presented gorgeous displays featuring both 1.3 and 1.4. Donnie Toms of Wellington, MO with Kansas City Area Pyrotechnics had to wait until Sunday evening to launch their Pro display, but holy moly, was it worth the wait! That final show was not only named the 2023 Pro Display winner; it broke a world record for the largest fireworks display ever shot on Cobra Firing Systems with over 5,000 cues. KCAP even shot two 16-inch shells, a first for Sky Wars; one launched as a beautiful dedication to a member’s late father-in-law, and another displayed in their record-breaking show.
There’s so much to unpack about the two winning shows that I won’t even attempt to do so here; I did, however, attempt to do so on the Sky Wars blog, where I highly encourage you to read more about Scott Smith’s and Donnie Toms’ innovative displays.
I also highly encourage you to witness all the action of Sky Wars yourself! The 19th US Invitational Fireworks Championship will take place Saturday, September 28th, 2024 in Innsbrook, Missouri. Tickets to next year’s championship are on sale now at skywarsevent.com.
Speaking of next year’s championship, are YOU a talented pyro seeking national recognition? Sky Wars will be taking applications for next year’s show soon. If you think you have what it takes to compete on the Sky Wars field in 2024, contact MoPyro president Rob Cima at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- November 1, 2023