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.
His music might be old to some and corny to others, but it is one of the things that makes state tournament games at the Big House quaint.
Students in crazy outfits. Mamas and daddies going berserk. And “The Macarena”.
It’s impossible to know what the next music man – or woman – will do with tunes at the Big House, but there’s one of Heatly’s songs that must carry over. “Oklahoma!” must be played before every game.
It’s a nod to a tradition that Heatly began during his camps. Hundreds of girls would come to Lindsay every week in the summer – more than 50,000 attended over the years – and they would be spread all over the school. In multiple gyms. Even on outside courts. When it was time to start a new session, Heatly would blare “Oklahoma!” in the main gym and the girls would come running.
Now, he plays the state song right before the teams are introduced and all the fans at the Big House rise to their feet and clap.
“People will always say, ‘Now, you’re gonna play “Oklahoma!” for our game, aren’t ya?’” Heatly said. “Oh, yeah.”
He pushed the start button on his boom box and turned up the nob that controls the master volume. The open strains of “Oklahoma!” crescendoed around the arena.
He rose out of his seat at the scorer’s table and clapped his hands like he has hundreds of times before, like he will one last time Saturday.
Heatly still plans to come to state tournament games. He’s something of a basketball addict; he and wife of 59 years, Sheneesta, have Thunder season tickets and make the two-hour round trip from Lindsay to Oklahoma City for nearly every home game. But his days spinning tunes at the Big House are over.
So, if you happen to be at the state tournament Saturday when Charlie Heatly is recognized and honored, give him a hand.
That would be a fitting soundtrack for the music man.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.