Supporting evidence: Lopes on the Road a success
Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from the November issue of GCU Magazine. To view the digital version of the magazine, click here.
By Jeannette Cruz
John Thornton is already making plans for the fourth season of Lopes on the Road — a chance for Grand Canyon University alumni, students, faculty and fans to cheer the Lopes to victory nationwide.
The Seattle resident, who is studying online for his doctoral degree at GCU, remembers his first Lopes on the Road experience — a year ago, when the men’s basketball team played at Seattle University, a 30-minute drive from his home. His online experience has made a GCU fan out of Thornton.
“It’s to the point everybody I know gets a GCU pen from me,” he said. “My wife is even changing careers and went to GCU. My son is a high school senior, and he has just been accepted at GCU as a ground student.” Thornton and his family attended the game together, and it made him even more excited when he saw a couple hundred more Lopes in the crowd.
What started in 2015 with 86 participants has grown to 1,382, and GCU hopes to continue expanding Lopes on the Road. The joint venture, operated by GCU’s Department of Athletics and Office of Alumni Relations, has scheduled events in 11 cities for games featuring four of GCU’s teams — six games for men’s basketball and two games apiece for baseball, men’s soccer and women’s basketball.
While Lopes on the Road provides a support system for athletes, it also creates a sense of camaraderie among alumni and nontraditional students.
“Being an online student, it’s hard to get a feel for the campus and the Lopes sporting events, but after my first Lopes on the Road, I was sold,” Thornton said. “I even had a friend — a Seattle U. alum — who was at the same game and came by and said, ‘Wow! I’ve come to a lot of games, and you never see this many alumni from any other school.’ That was an amazing feeling.”
Mike Vaught, GCU’s Vice President of Athletics, said the Alumni Relations and Athletics departments aim to deliver the best experience at every city they visit by bringing GCU fans together with fellow Lopes, coaches and administrators. He said it’s even more important to consistently deliver the spirit and community of GCU to the fans and alumni.
Although it is not unusual for cheering, screaming, GCU purple-clad fans to take up an entire section at the opposing team’s arena, Vaught said the atmosphere is inspiring because some fans will drive for hours to attend a game and then drive back home.
“Their presence tells us how passionate people are about GCU and what it stands for, our campus, our mission, our leadership, (President) Brian Mueller,” Vaught said. “To see that kind of support pumps our team up, and it’s exciting. We certainly are going to continue growing the program, especially as we move through the Division I process.”
Charlita Berry, from Chicago, attended three basketball games with her family and said she enjoyed seeing familiar faces in the crowd. “It was nice to see continuity because some of the students I met at the games had gone through my program, and they were able to give me the support I needed,” Berry said. “Interacting with the alums made me feel a part of something greater.”
GCU alum Erik Adams lives in Bakersfield, Calif., and said he did not know about the Lopes on the Road events when he met a GCU representative during his first Lopes men’s basketball game.
“I was just getting ready to graduate and it was our first year in the probation period for the Lopes to transition from NCAA Division II to I, so I went to watch a game,” he said. Adams immediately decided to sign up to be part of Lopes on the Road.
“I knew I wanted to support the University and get involved as much as I could,” he said. “My hope is that as the number of alumni continues to grow in my area, we will be able to start our own chapter in Bakersfield.”
Every year, Adams said, he sees the number of GCU supporters grow. “It’s a good feeling because I want people to know that it’s a great school.”
Liz Conwell, Alumni Relations Manager, said fans remain loyal and are a testament to GCU’s community-minded spirit.
Conwell recalled being at one soccer game and seeing that, despite rain and freezing temperatures, 80 Lopes fans devotedly showed up while the opposing team had none.
“To see that makes it really special,” said Conwell. “You just know when GCU is there.”
Vaught had his own special memory to share, too.
“There was one basketball game where all of the GCU people were seated behind the goal, and it was perfect because every time they showed someone shooting a free throw on TV it looked like a GCU home game,” he said. “There were fans wearing their GCU T-shirts all over the place, and I was so glad they gave us those seats.”
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or [email protected]