Is this corny?

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It’s the smell of fun. When was the last time you smelled the alluring aroma of popcorn and didn’t have a good time? Odds are your answer is never. Popcorn goes with movies, ball games, and just sitting in front of the television.

Last Saturday as I watched a thrilling come-from-behind win by the Wyoming Indian Chiefs over the Big Piney Punchers I sat with my friends Chico and Julie Her Many Horses for the second half. I brought a bag of popcorn from the Wyoming Indian concession stand with me to open the third period.

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Chico and Julie have operated the concession stand many times over the last three decades, and Chico is a connoisseur of popcorn.

“Good corn?” Chico asked.

“You bet, the Chiefs always have good popcorn,” I answered.

“Better than that stuff at Thermopolis,” Chico commented.

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He was right, and it started a discussion of this mysterious snack, discovered long ago by the indigenous people of the eastern woodlands of North America and that had perhaps been enjoyed even longer by the original natives of Central and South America.

There is something magical about popcorn. It starts with hard, rock like kernels, and ends up fluffy and delicious, all with just a little heat and some oil.

They didn’t have microwaves, gas burners, cast iron cookware, or popcorn machines in the ancient world, but they did make popcorn by coating the kernels in grease and putting them on hot rocks.

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History is vague on this point, but oral traditions of the Iroquois list bison fat, venison fat, and bear grease (said to be the best tasting) as the oil used to coat the kernels. Youngsters stood by the fire and caught the popcorn as it popped on hot rocks and sailed into the air.

One of the Spanish historians under Cortez is credited with the first European impression of popcorn. From a journal around 1520, he wrote, “They scattered before him parched corn, called momochitl, a kind of corn which bursts when parched and discloses its contents and makes itself look like a very white flower; they said these were hailstones given to the god of water.”

Hailstones given by the god of water don’t quite elicit the same response as smelling popcorn when you enter a gymnasium.

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As a player and coach, you never get the chance to eat much popcorn, and custodians have to deal with huge piles of it spilled in the stands, but sportswriters, well that’s a little different.

I have my favorite venues for popcorn, just as I have my favorite gyms, and some schools are renowned for the quality of their concession stands, while others are a little lacking.

You don’t have to go very far to find a contender for the best popcorn in Wyoming if you live in Riverton.

The wonderful, square-bottomed bags you find in Wolverine gym top my list among high schools. It’s a big bag, salted to just the right consistency and just greasy enough to soak lightly through the bag. That’s a perfect popcorn mix.

An almost empty bag of Riverton concession stand popcorn with perfect grease stains – {h/t Randy Tucker}

I’d rate the popcorn at Lander too if I ever had the chance to try some, but covering the Tigers or going to tournaments in Bob Carey Memorial Fieldhouse is just far enough away from home that I usually order an “Award winning Tiger dog” (something I say to the kids behind the counter that usually gets a blank stare in return)

The Chiefs, Cougars, and Wranglers all make excellent popcorn. If you’re a health-conscious popcorn consumer, you’d best stay away from high school gyms. The best tasting popcorn is made with coconut oil, and according to nutritionists is the worst for you. Why is it that the best tasting stuff is always the worst for your health?

At state tournaments, the popcorn at Kelly Walsh and Natrona County is better than what you can order at Casper College, and infinitely superior to the sad, stale quality offered at the Ford Wyoming Center.

As a high school kid, I ran the popcorn machine at the old Wind River High School at Morton a few times when my buddies were wrestling. I had a few complaints from the teachers in charge for using too much of that hard, yellow, coconut oil for each batch, but the fans never complained.

I did the same thing at Lusk and Shoshoni when I had concession stand duty during the girls’ basketball or volleyball games, but there were no complaints since I’d changed roles into a “responsible” adult.

My favorite popcorn story is just marginally about popcorn but it took place in the Johnny Winterholler Gym in Lovell back in 1990.

The Wranglers were playing the Bulldogs on that rubberized tartan floor they had in Lovell in those days. It was a good game, Lovell came from behind at Shoshoni earlier in the year to beat us, and we were in the mix with the Dogs on their home court.

My post man, 6-4, 150 pound senior Shane Palmer was shot swatting machine on the low block, and could touch the top of his head to the rim, but he was no match for Lovell’s big man on a break.

Chad Lindsey, one of the best athletes to ever come out of “Dog Town” as I often call Lovell was 6-3 and about 245 pounds as a senior. Chad was fast, agile, and incredibly strong as evidenced by his throwing the shot around 65 feet repeatedly as a senior.

In one of those scramble plays where everyone is out of position, we scored on a fast break after Shane tossed the ball almost full court to Blaine Anderson for a layup.

Shane was still in the backcourt when Lovell threw the ball to Chad at the center circle. Chad squared up, took off at full, sprinter’s speed toward the basket, and Shane held his ground.

The collision was tremendous as Shane bravely took the charge.

Chad hit him so hard that Shane flew backward into the doors, hitting a panic bar and flying into the lobby of the gym.

My late friend Harold Bailey was on the bench with me as my assistant coach and yelled to me, “Let’s go, he might have killed Palmer.”

We sprinted across the floor, but Shane was OK, stunned, and laying under the table holding the popcorn machine, but still breathing.

We helped him onto his wobbly feet, and we started to walk back into the gym.

The girls running the concession stand were standing there slack jawed and stunned themselves.

Just for fun I looked at one of them and said, “Is that popcorn fresh?” then grinned and hustled back to the game.

Popcorn, it’s the aroma of good times wherever you smell it.

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