High School Basketball

Clark County brought a state title contender — and a pair of guitar heroes — to Sweet 16

Joel Mishler, left (bass), and Justin Garza (lead) play guitar in Clark County’s pep band.
Joel Mishler, left (bass), and Justin Garza (lead) play guitar in Clark County’s pep band.

A bunch of gritty basketball players who are contending for a state title aren’t the only stars Clark County High School brought to the KHSAA Girls’ Sweet Sixteen.

It brought some potential future rock stars as well.

Fans enjoying the action at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena might have noticed something a bit unusual in the front row of Clark County’s rowdy pep band: A pair of electric-guitar players plugged into bona fide amplifiers busting out some rock — and rap — classics.

Joel Mishler, a junior, plays bass in the Cardinals’ band. Senior Justin Garza plays lead. Early on in the basketball team’s win over Elizabethtown in the quarterfinals on Friday they joined the rest of the band in a rendition of Chicago’s 1970 hit “25 or 6 to 4.” Moments later they did a genre flip and busted out a slick interpretation of the Dr. Dre classic “The Next Episode.”

Thomas McMurray, an Eastern Kentucky University student teacher who was filling in for band director Michael Payne, said it’s unusual for pep bands to feature guitarists before the collegiate level.

“It adds a lot to the band,” McMurray said. “It helps boost the tubas up, and whenever the rest of the guys get tired you just point at (Mishler and Garza) and they’ll start jamming out to fill up time.”

Garza and Mishler aren’t content to stick with a set playlist. McMurray said they frequently field requests from the Clark County faithful.

“If the student section wants something they’ll do it and get them going,” he said.

Garza said band director Payne came up with the idea of adding guitars to the mix four years ago. Garza, a senior, has been playing ever since he was a freshman, though this is the first year he has played at the state tournament. He said he’s happy to take requests, but he and Mishler have a few go-to favorites that get the fans hyped, like AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.”

“We usually just do it by feel,” Garza said.

Clark County might have a couple of guitar heroes in the making to along with their hardwood heroes.

Josh Sullivan: 859-231-3225, @sullyjosh