HOPE — It’s just after 5 o’clock on a Saturday evening at Hauser High School, and Steve Hamilton is in the rear concessions booth making critical pregame preparations.
Not critical to the players or coaches involved in the night’s games, perhaps, but certainly to many of the spectators who will be coming to the gym shortly to watch the Jets play.
Heat the oil. Scoop the corn. Add the seasoning. Pop.
On an average game night, about 15 to 20 batches of popcorn will be prepared as spectators come to snatch up bag after bag of the area’s most talked about game-night snack.
For generations, the popcorn at Hauser basketball games has been almost as much a part of the experience as the games themselves.
“I can remember my mom in the early ’70s doing popcorn here,” Hamilton said.
Several others have been in charge of the process over the years, most often parents of students in the school band or chorus. The music boosters have sold popcorn at games for at least the past 50 years, and not much has changed in that time. Even the $1 price tag is a throwback.
But what is it that has gotten Hauser’s popcorn such a strong reputation? Fans of the Jets swear by it, and fans of other schools have long come asking for it.
“I’m not a popcorn eater,” Hauser athletics director Dave Irvine admitted. “But they say it is the best. Everybody that comes in says it’s the best.”
Ed Johnson, a 1960 Hauser graduate who worked the popcorn stand more than a generation ago, says that the taste hasn’t changed a lot over the years, but if anything, it’s “probably better” today.
So what’s the secret? Special seasoning from the Himalayas? Oil harvested from olives grown at the top of Mount Olympus in Greece?
Turns out that it’s none of that. It’s just the right combination of the right everyday ingredients.
According to Hamilton, Hauser’s popcorn is heated in a coconut-based butter oil that gets measured out automatically by the machine and seasoned with about a tablespoon of butter salt per batch.
“It’s no secret; you can buy it,” he said. “We get all of our popcorn supplies from Gold Medal.”
No secrets. Nothing crazy. Just good old-fashioned popcorn, just like Hamilton’s mother used to make more than 40 years ago.
That whole time, the proceeds from the popcorn sales have gone to support the music programs at Hauser, with the money helping to fund everything from new uniforms to equipment to trips.
About the only thing that has really changed over the years has been the location. Before Hauser’s gym was renovated, the popcorn machine was in the hallway. Since the renovation, the new concession stand on the south side of the gym has been run by the athletics department, while the older stand on the north side now belongs to the music boosters.
Because the popcorn has always belonged to the boosters, it’s only available in the north concession stand. Regardless of where it gets sold, it remains a deeply ingrained (or in-kerneled?) part of the school’s basketball tradition.
“I’ve probably eaten more than most people,” said Ken Chandler, a 1962 Hauser grad who worked the stand with his wife Nancy in the late 1980s. “It’s been pretty much the standard, absolutely.”
“It’s good popcorn.”
There are still plenty of opportunities to get over to a game at Hauser and sample the school’s renowned popcorn. Some upcoming games:
Tonight;Morristown girls;7:30 p.m.
Friday;Waldron boys;7:30 p.m.
Saturday;Crothersville boys;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 28;Shelbyville girls;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 29;South Decatur boys;7:30 p.m.