I watched two Warsaw Lady Tiger basketball games during the past week. I enjoyed myself at each road venue, but I’ll get to my beef when I feel like it.

The first was the thriller at Northridge last Saturday where the Tigers moved atop the Northern Lakes Conference ladder courtesy of a Nicole Zartman free throw with two ticks left on the game clock, a 53-52 “W” for the orange and black.

The second game was a blowout at Mishawaka Wednesday night. A 71-29 win over the Lady Cavemen with a high level of viewer satisfaction despite the lopsided score. It was a very solid performance by a Lady Tiger squad who has, on occasion, fallen into the trap of stopping to the level of its competition.

Mishawaka had already picked up 10 wins at this point of the season, but there was a big gap in talent because most of the Cavemen wins came from a lighter fare of opponents before the two teams met.

The Lady Tigers had solid ball movement and hustled all the way to the final buzzer. They shot the lights out too, setting a school record with 13 made shots beyond the three-point arc, and they eclipsed the previous school record with 140 treys. They still have seven games left, too.

The weird part of the experience for me was my role in Wednesday night’s convincing win. I stepped in as Mishawaka’s PA announcer. It was difficult – and I had to hesitate occasionally – to avoid giving “home energy” to the announcement of Tiger baskets. It was good to see familiar faces’ and amusing to see the initial puzzled glance at me as I moved to the scorer’s table.

I’ve been known to help out other schools in a scheduling jam, but I still love my Tigers.

Between last Saturday’s Warsaw-Northridge clash and the very special venue change to Lakeview Middle School (the OG Tiger Den you could say), it was so refreshing to see large spirited crowds for a change.

Post-pandemic Indiana high school regular season basketball attendance appears to be lagging behind the Hoosier State’s football attendance in my recent experiences. My eyeball calculation might not give you the tightest attendance figures, but the girls’ game at Northridge had at least 1,800 fans and the boys’ game Tuesday (honoring former Tiger coaching legend, Indiana High School Basketball Hall-of-Famer Al Rhoades) drew at least 2,500 fans.

Last Saturday my sister, whose friends at Northridge’s gym were comprised of relatives of Raider hoopster Eva Fisher, saved me a seat in the heart of Raider fandom. Additionally, my wife, a teacher at Northridge Middle School, was greeted by familiar student and parent faces throughout the pregame and during the varsity action. She felt like Saturday was a win-win.

Shawna’s first Indiana public school position, teaching middle school language arts at Edgewood Middle school, drew us to eventually move from Goshen and Milford to the Lake City – the latter in the summer of 2004. I, on the other hand, felt like the guy in the Schoolhouse Rock short, “Interjections”, who sheepishly said, “Hooray, I’m for the other team!”

I wasn’t going to be thrilled about a Lady Tiger loss.

Saturday was the first basketball game I attended as a fan since the 2018 IHSAA boys’ sectional final in North Side gym when Warsaw fell to Northridge. I found this to be an interesting coincidence to be watching another Tiger-Raider clash merely as a fan, not as an event worker, and not as a sports correspondent.

You know what bugged me about last Saturday night the most? The limited post-pandemic hours of restaurants.

I can understand the issue in terms an establishment’s bottom line. However, it made me long for the days where I went way back – WAY back – to when my godfather and I would venture to his alma mater, Lakewood Saint Edward (Ohio) to watch football, wrestling, and basketball.

I attended, and played high school football for, an Ohio public high school. More than a half dozen Cleveland and Akron area Catholic schools regularly played their football games on Saturday afternoons and evenings, so after taking my weekly beating in a program who had a 2-27-1 record from my sophomore through senior seasons, I would watch some of the area’s most elite programs clash on Saturday nights in stadiums with fan attendance ranging from 5,000 to 10,000.

The games even started at 8 p.m. back then, but we could still find a good sit-down restaurant open after 10 p.m. We never thought twice about a fast-food restaurant on our near-weekly schleps throughout the Cleveland suburbs and inner city.

I was spoiled, and now, in this day and age, when last Saturday’s game was finished, Shawna and I had to find a “big-box” sit-down restaurant for postgame eats and drinks. We wound up at Chili’s and it wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t Antonio’s (in Parma), or numerous restaurants in Lakewood where my godfather/uncle seemed to have standing reservations permitting us to move past the lobby crowd.

Those were the days.

It was prominent in my mind because he and I talked for nearly two hours Sunday morning and I was telling him that there was my habit of rarely eating dinner before 7:30 p.m. struggling against the need to get to my saved seat, and the post-pandemic consequence of nothing being open for more than 20 minutes after the final buzzer of Saturday night’s thrilling, and very satisfying win.

My godfather said, “No Antonio’s in your part of Indiana?”

I could feel his smirk through the phone.

“Rulli’s,” I replied. “Pretty good, but not Antonio’s (our favorite “peasant food” haunt). But they chopped their closing time from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m. and they discourage people from a sit-down postgame meal. They offer take-out instead of late seating”

“Ah, service with a snarl,” was his rejoinder.

Things are so different. I love where I live, but I hate the dearth of open mom-and-pop restaurants consequential of the pandemic. I also hate eating dinner at 5 p.m.

Face it, if you have a kid playing junior varsity basketball, and you want to stay for the varsity game you’re out of luck unless you settle for the concession stand fare.

I announced the Mishawaka-Plymouth girls’ game in the early afternoon (helpin’ ‘em out again), hit a sugar low forcing me to grab a McDonald’s drive-thru hamburger before getting on Elm Street in the Princess City, swooped in to pick up Shawna for the Raider-Tiger clash, and by the time all the prep hoops action in Northridge was over I was ready to eat some mammals with a big plate of pasta.

I should have managed my expectations. Chili’s was O.K. I guess.