Come to the Big House for the state basketball tournaments, and there are certain things you expect. Talented teams. Passionate fans. Packed parking lots.
And, of course, “The Chicken Dance”.
Charlie Heatly has been the man behind the music for 24 years, but Saturday will be his last day. He is retiring. He is unplugging his boom box, packing up his CDs and going home. And the state tournaments won’t be the same.
Heatly and his old-time music — the 80-year-old readily admits his tunes are dated — have become a staple.
“Oh, you know, you’ve got to stop sometime,” Heatly said Friday as his songs blared out of the arena speakers before a Class 2A girls semifinal. “Sometimes, I think you better leave or your welcome might run out.”
That was his approach in 1986 when he retired from coaching girls basketball at Lindsay after a long and distinguished career, then again in 1996 when he stepped down as athletic director at Lindsay and stopped running his renowned basketball camps.
After he stopped coaching, Heatly started playing music at Lindsay’s basketball games. He’d always played music during his camps, so he figured he’d do the same during timeouts and between games at Lindsay.
A few years later, state activities association head Bill Self Sr. came to him with a proposition.
“The state tournament just needs something,” Self Sr. said. “It’s just a little bit dull out there.”
Heatly’s been spicing things up ever since.
Now, some might say his spice is a bit stale. “The Chicken Dance”, “Cotton-Eyed Joe” and “YMCA” are in heavy rotation. By far his favorite is “Sweet Georgia Brown”; he has so many variations of the song that he could play them all back to back and fill the better part of an hour.
“Pump Up the Jam” is among his newer songs, and it was released in 1989.
A few years ago, a couple of girls approached Heatly at halftime of a game at Lindsay.
“Coach Heatly,” they said, “do you have any ‘Ice, Ice Baby’?”
Heatly said, “I think you can get that down at the concession stand.”
The girls returned to their seats shaking their heads.
“I didn’t know,” Heatly said, laughing. “I was honest.”
Thing is, for every youngin’ who requests something new, Heatly hears from a couple of adults who thank him for playing songs that they can understand. And as Heatly points out, those are the paying customers.
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