SETTING THE TONE

Joel Barndt plays on Rocky's basketball team, while father Gary plays in the band

2013-01-23T23:00:00Z 2013-01-24T05:17:03Z Joel Barndt plays on Rocky's basketball team, while father Gary plays in the bandBy BILL BIGHAUS bbighaus@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

When the men's basketball team at Rocky Mountain College plays host to Montana Western on Thursday night, the Barndt family of Billings will help set the tone on and off the court.

Joel, a 6-foot-8 junior forward, will be in the starting lineup for the Battlin' Bears, while his 61-year-old father, Gary, will be playing first trumpet in Rocky's pep band.

"He was a basketball player, too, all the way through high school," Joel said of his father. "But music was always his passion."

These days, Gary can cheer from the pep band section in the bleachers as his son knocks down 3-pointers, dunks the ball or grabs a rebound.

Then, whenever there's a break in the action on First Interstate Bank Court, he can give his lips and lungs another workout by blaring out "Hey Baby," "Eye Of The Tiger" or "The Final Countdown" on his trumpet.

A 1973 graduate of Rocky, where he earned a music education degree, Gary has been playing for the fun of it in his alma mater's pep band for the past several seasons while sons, Philip and Joel, have been competing in basketball for the Bears.

"It's been a blast," Gary said. "I wouldn't trade this for anything."

"He's the loudest trumpet," said Joel. "You know he's there. That's what makes this so much fun."

A busy father of seven, Gary has been the pastor at a small, Pentecostal church (Victorious Word) in Billings for 21 years. He also does ministry work and assists with services at Dahl Funeral Chapel, along with refereeing elementary and middle school basketball games.

The 46-year-old trumpet that Gary is playing is the same one he used as a Rocky student in the school's pep and marching bands.

"For people like Gary and myself, the combination of sports and the opportunity to play some fun pop music is just irresistible," said Tony Hammond, who is the school's pep band director. "So while it's a huge help to the band, because Gary plays pretty well and can cover that all important first trumpet part, I think the reason that he does it is because he just likes to play."

Besides performing at Rocky, Gary has also enjoyed a 10-year gig with the pep band at Billings Central, where Philip and Joel attended, and where 6-3 Caleb, 15, is following in his brothers' footsteps on the freshman basketball team.

Another Barndt, Nathan, 13, is in eighth grade and playing hoops at Saint Francis Upper.

"My youngest daughter (Elizabeth, 10) is in the fourth grade," Gary added. "She graduates from high school three months before I'm 70. So, I mean, I've really got to hang in there."

So far, so good, physically and musically for Gary.

"I know I'm out here (on the court) four or five days a week practicing and getting ready for the games," Joel said. "Well, he's at home getting ready for the games, too.

"He's got the music in front of him, he's practicing all of the (songs) and making sure he's in shape and ready to go. It's basically like his game day, too. In that way we're kind of sharing something. We're both getting ready in our own way."

In what started out years ago as a ploy to get into games for free, now has Gary jumping at the opportunity to play rousing renditions of "The Hey Song," "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" and "Rocky Mountain March" with college students who might wonder "who that old guy is that just snuck in," he said with a laugh.

The pep band's playlist at Rocky includes about two dozen songs ranging from the 1960s to current hits.

"When Rocky plays the exact same song and arrangement that Central has, I have those memorized," Gary said. "So then you're just free to play and go after it. Those are the ones where I can take the volume up a little bit and blast away at them while (Joel's) out there."

Joel, who is 22 and in his third season at Rocky, said it means a lot to him to have his father playing music at his games. That includes his last game at Central, where his dad helped unveil a new Matchbox 20 song before the consolation contest at the state tournament in Great Falls.

"I still remember the song they played before introducing the starting lineups. It was Matchbox 20's 'Let's See How Far We've Come,' " Joel said. "I hear my dad blaring it on the trumpet as loud as he can. He's kind of sending me a message almost."

Over the years at Rocky, Gary has helped revamp the sound system in the Fortin Center gym — and even served a stint as public address announcer at games.

Those duties, along with performing in the pep band, are his way of giving back to the school and supporting his sons, he said.

"Gary is a great guy and treats everyone so well," Hammond said. "And that great humanity is reflected in both Phil and Joel, which makes having him around, trumpet or no trumpet, a treat every time."

Gary, who will celebrate 30 years of marriage to wife, Chris, in June, started playing the trumpet in the pep band at Absarokee High School, where he graduated in 1969.

"My first instrument was the accordion, but when the Beatles came out that accordion never came out of the case again," he said. "I was a drummer when I started out in band because my family couldn't afford a big-time instrument. It only cost a dollar to get a pair of drumsticks and the school had drums.

"But deep down I always wanted to be a trumpet player because they always had the melody."

At Central, Caleb joins his father in the pep band and plays the drums for the varsity games, just like Philip, now 24, did when he was a freshman.

"I was a guitar player," Joel noted. "Guitar isn't much of a pep band instrument."

Gary was in charge of band and choir during a nine-year stint as a school teacher at Hysham, Huntley Project and Custer. After retiring as a teacher, he mostly used his trumpet over the next 18 years to play taps at funerals until Philip started high school in 2003.

"It took almost all of Philip's high school years for me to get in good enough shape to be able to play all the songs again," Gary said. "By the time Joel was a junior and senior, I was off and running like the old days."

"Now," said Joel, "he's in it for the long haul."

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