The man behind the fan: How ‘Hey Hey Hey’ became a staple of Badgers hockey
Jeff Barrette has high expectations for anyone who calls themselves a Badger fan. He equates it to being someone’s spouse, someone you wouldn’t bail on in the worst of circumstances. You don’t walk out on your team when they lose. You can’t abandon them in their time of need.
“It takes an extraordinary act for me to not be at a hockey game,” Barrette said. “When it’s hockey season, I plan everything – Friday and Saturday nights – around hockey games.”
Barrette spends his winter weekends at the Kohl Center, posted up in section 126. He guesses he’s had his season tickets for 15 years or so. Each week, he sports his pin-clad winter cap and jersey, like some sort of center-ice Santa Clause. The Mineral Point native doesn’t even know how to skate.
“The moment that you know you’re on top of the heap, that it’s your team that just won, the feeling is just great, just fantastic,” Barrette explained. “That, and beating Minnesota.”
HOW “HEY HEY HEY” CAME TO BE
He may not stick out in a sold-out crowd of 17,000, but lucky for all of us, there’s a camera posted up near Barrette. One day, he found himself on the big screen. He casually waved, and his friend was immediately disappointed.
“So I said OK, fine,” Barrette said. “I said I’ll see if I can get the crowd charged up.”
Barrette started pumping his arms up in the air, yelling “hey” over and over again. It was a simple enough chant, but it caught on.
“The students were the ones that picked up on it first, and they started doing it, and then after that, it just kind of snowballed from there,” Barrette said.
Now, every game, Barrette gets the entire stadium going with his “hey, hey, hey.”
A few things have changed over the time Barrette’s had season tickets. Among them is the company. The buddy who brought him to his first games is gone. His wife doesn’t sit next to him anymore, either. She lives with multiple sclerosis, and it’s hard for her to walk that much. She can still tell whether the Badgers were victorious or not based purely on Barrette’s mood.
“You know, losing’s not fun, but it’s inevitable. You’re not going to win every hockey game,” Barrette said.
LOVE, LOSS, AND HARLEYS
There’s some irony in the fact that Barrette would subject himself to a passion on the ice. In his retirement, he often looks out at the piles of snow getting pushed off his street, grateful he’s past the days when that was part of his responsibility.
“Thirty-three years, five months and eight days,” he said.
Barrette worked in fleet services for Madison all of those years, working on everything from road graters to plows to firetrucks, squad cars, and industrial lawnmowers. He’s always been good with his hands, he says, something he got from his dad. His father’s quick wit wasn’t lost on him, either.
“I said, you know, when your number comes up on that board, there’s nothing you can do about it,” Barrette remembered. “He looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, but you don’t have to go looking for the guy with the chalk.'”
In his late 20’s, Barrette picked up a passion for motorcycles. He knew since he was a kid that he wanted a Harley. He started with something more reasonable and graduated to the top-of-the-line bikes.
“People ask, ‘Why do you ride a motorcycle?'” Barrette said. “It’s real easy. I can’t afford an airplane.”
Like a lot of riders, Barrette made friends in the Harley community. He was drawn in by their compassion, a generous spirit that went against every “bad biker” stereotype. He keeps riding for the sense of freedom.
“I’ll do it as long as I can. I’m not a young man anymore, as you can tell by the color of my beard,” Barrette said.
Among his companions over the years was a Vietnam veteran. That friend was diagnosed with colon cancer, and during a surgery, his body couldn’t handle it anymore. Barrette was put in charge of his affairs.
“We looked for urns for motorcyclists, for bikers, and there wasn’t anything,” Barrette explained.
Pulling from his mechanic roots, Barrette consulted someone he knew who worked in a machine shop. They ended up making a custom piece, something their buddy would have been proud to be remembered in, an urn adorned with real Harley cylinders.
“I think it really portrays what a biker’s all about. I mean, it’s a real motorcycle cylinder, and the ones we use right now they’ve been used, so as my partner says, they’ve breathed fire,” Barrette said.
And so began what Barrette calls “Riders Last Rest.”
Barrette went through the difficult and expensive process of getting the concept patented. The venture has actually lost money due to legal battles and the sheer price of putting one together, but Barrette believes there’s a market in his creation and is determined to see it out.
“I’m not a young man anymore. But we’ll see. We’ll see what happens,” Barrette said.
“YOU WIN AND YOU LOSE”
Nearly 30 years after his championship trip to Detroit, Barrette says it’s the entire experience of the game that brings him back week after week.
He considers his Kohl Center fame an accident. It’s been four or five years, he thinks, since the students caught on to his simple get-up.
Barrette still swears he won’t miss a game, as long as he can help it. He says the thrill of being there when something special happens is too much to pass up, no matter what the outcome.
“Everything in life, you win and you lose,” Barrette said. “It’s just how you handle it.”
If you’d like to learn more about Barrette’s custom-made urns, visit the “Riders Last Rest” Facebook page.
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