Lope-A-Palooza’s fruity fun catches on with freshmen
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Freshman Austin Rockwell says he was the guy jumping around at his high school’s sports events in Madison, Wis., trying to get his classmates fired up.
But no one was too interested.
Then he arrived at Grand Canyon University this week and quickly found out that being a Havoc means never having to be alone. He was moved by the Ignite ceremony Wednesday, but then came Thursday night, when he moved with the pep rally like no other, the second annual Lope-A-Palooza.
“I’m already passionate about GCU,” he said, still swaying afterward, “and I’ve been here two days!”
It was an opportunity for newcomers to see what all the talk is about, a miniature Midnight Madness that gave them their first look at the Havocs in their pineapple-eating, costume-wearing, Thunder-loving nuttiness. It took so long to get everyone inside – the line snaked all the way from GCU Arena to Lopes Way and beyond – organizers had to come up with extra songs while they delayed the start for five minutes.
In a bit of cleverness that was conceived by a student, the doors opened at 7:49 p.m., or 19:49 in military time (Grand Canyon was founded in 1949). By the time the program began at 8:24, it was a standing-room-only crowd although no one sat down anyway, even if they had a seat.
“This isn’t happening anywhere else in the country!” Paul Danuser, the public-address announcer at men’s basketball games and the emcee on this night, shouted above the din.
And he’s right, assuming that other universities don’t have a guy (Titus Converse) in a diaper tossing his pineapple into the crowd to let others take a bite out of it, too. Like so many things the Havocs do, it’s just silly fun.
When the party really started, Thunder made his grand entrance with the drummers from the Thundering Heard Pep Band, a video of sports highlights was shown, the crowd heard from the Havocs leaders – President Karsten Kem, Vice President of Marketing Shelby Langston and Vice President of Game Day Jake Bradshaw – and cheer captains Casey Trout and Dylan Brower-Jackson, and everyone sang the GCU fight song – twice – to make sure they know the words.
But what was particularly interesting was watching the newbies get educated about the Purple Pre-Game Party, the 10 minutes of dancing and swaying that precedes every GCU home basketball game.
When the now traditional opening song, “We Like to Party” by Vengaboys, began and the more experienced Havocs started cha-cha-ing their arms to the beat, it took only a few seconds before the entire Arena was doing that. You almost could hear them thinking, “Oh, I get it! We’re supposed to do that! Let’s go!”
Of course, that’s assuming you could even hear yourself think at this point. The Havocs normally take up about half of the Arena. This was the entire bowl and upper deck going crazy, and the noise was deafening.
Afterward, Rockwell still couldn’t believe what he had just seen, heard and felt. He has been to University of Wisconsin football games, which feature the students doing a “Jump Around” in unison, and he said it “has nothing on what happened tonight.”
Nearby, freshmen Sam Wiederkehr, Ryley Thompson and Tanae Wilson looked equally dazed. They had gotten a lot out of other Welcome Week events as well – Wiederkehr said the “Keys to Academic Success” session Thursday morning was particularly good – but this was over the top.
“We didn’t think it was this hyped,” Thompson said.
That has been the reaction of countless newcomers over the last few years.
“People usually don’t expect it until they get there,” said Taylor Griffin, Director of In-Game Entertainment and part of the team that organizes this and other spirit events. “Then they tell you, ‘We had no idea!’ All you have to do is get them there.”
The event, which ended at precisely 8:49, was just another example of a Welcome Week that has been like no other. From Move-In to the Canyon Cooldown to Night at the Movies to Ignite to Lope-A-Palooza to all the orientations and socials, the reports keep coming back exactly the same – this freshman class arrived fully aware of GCU’s culture and is eager to be part of it.
“They want in,” said Dr. Tim Griffin, GCU’s Pastor and Dean of Students.
“The most gratifying thing,” GCU President Brian Mueller said, “is how the students talk about the University, and this is just a reflection of that. They love the University, they love what they have here as students, they love the community. It’s such an attractive place to be for kids who are looking for that kind of community experience.
“We have put some work and effort into this, but to think that it could reach this level – it’s gone beyond expectations. And it’s because of who our students are.”
It is an interesting mix of faith and devotion. And Rockwell brought up another word as he proclaimed that “you can love Jesus but also love life.”
“Authenticity,” he added. “That’s what Jesus wants.”
Oh, Lope-A-Palooza was authentic, all right. Next up: Meetings have begun to plan out Midnight Madness … in 2018. Just about everything is in place for this year’s event, scheduled for Oct. 6.
Advance warning to newbies: You think Lope-A-Palooza was loud?
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.