High school basketball teams are deep in their playoff runs right now, and it offers us the opportunity to reflect on what makes the high school basketball experience truly special in our area.

Each year, dedicated amateurs spend long, sweaty hours to give our schools and our communities something to be proud of: A good bag of popcorn.

A couple of years ago, my daughter played basketball for Bowling Green High School. Inspired by the outstanding Twitter account @OHSAPopcornA, I decided to rank the popcorn of Northwest Ohio’s gymnasiums. First, I had to think about what separated the wheat from the … kernel.

1. Freshness: There are gyms I will not even deign to mention in our realm that use bagged popcorn, rewarmed under the callous glow of a heat lamp. It always made me wonder: If you can’t get popcorn right, what else aren’t you getting right in this place?

Truly fresh, warm popcorn, with the unpopped kernels that sizzle in the bottom of the bag, is critical to the rest of the experience. Freshly scooped into a bag, too, is important. When the popcorn bags sit out at room temperature, only bad things can happen.

It has to be crispy. It can’t be stale, It should never be damp. I didn’t make the rules, man, it’s just the way it is.

2. Packaging: Good people can disagree on this point, but my unwavering belief is that the brown paper bag is the superior container for basketball popcorn. Boxes are OK, white wax-papery bags I’m not a fan of in the least.

But there is nothing, nothing, like a brown paper bag, grease-stained at the bottom, and hot in your hands. It conveys to me that the school cares about tradition, and that’s important.

3. Liberal with the oil: You can really tell a bag of popcorn where they’ve been stingy with the oil, and if there’s one common complaint with bad popcorn, it’s this. Don’t skimp up there in that nasty old heating vessel.

4. Pre-salting. The true popcorn artisans in Northwest Ohio shake seasoning salt on the popcorn as soon as it’s popped, mixing it around in the machine before bagging it. Unsalted, and you may as well be eating insulation.

5. Curb appeal: Dead honest, you guys, the dirtier that popcorn machine looks, the more likely it is that the popcorn’s gonna smack. Do popcorn machines get seasoned over time like a cast-iron skillet? I don’t know, but I’m telling you, the worse that thing looks, the better the popcorn is going to taste.

I can’t vouch for anyone’s popcorn this year — none of my kids are in the kind of sports at which you get popcorn — but I can tell you that, in 2018 at least, nobody topped Rossford or Fostoria around here. Every bag was pitch-perfect.

My dupa sure doesn’t miss traipsing from one uncomfortable bleacher to another, but my tummy sure does miss that popcorn.

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