Sounds great! Arena rocks again for Lope-A-Palooza
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
After rain couldn’t dampen the Canyon Cool Down, Project L became the biggest barbecue in the Valley and Silent Disco reverberated, Lope-A-Palooza figured to cap an unforgettable Welcome Week with even more memories.
But not even the most optimistic organizer would have dared to predict that most of Grand Canyon University Arena would be full of Havocs two hours before the start of the women’s volleyball match Friday night and four hours before the beginning of the wild pep rally that is Lope-A-Palooza.
Not Joshua Gillespie. With the pandemic restrictions of 2020-21 still etched in his mind, the President of the Havocs had to compose himself when he saw the early arriving crowd.
“Usually I’m not emotional, but when I first looked in and saw everything, it brought some tears to my eyes,” he said. “It really did.
“Knowing all the work we put in last year to make sure we had such an awesome student section, now we get to reward the students and let them come in and just have fun in the Arena and get to know each other and make friends and build that community in a full Arena. You can’t beat that.”
Not Jesi Weeks. The Spirit Programs Manager also became teary-eyed after her first glimpse.
“I got a little bit emotional because I haven’t seen this for a really long time,” she said. “Lope-A-Palooza has always been a big kickoff event, but this is the biggest crowd we’ve ever seen. I’m an alumni cheerleader, and this surpassed my dreams.”
Not Dr. Paul Danuser. It made the public-address announcer for GCU events raise his voice that much more.
“It’s just so nice to have the living, breathing Havocs again because they bring so much excitement and so much energy,” he said. “I feed off that. I hope they feed off me a little bit, but about a hundred times more I feed off their energy.
“It’s a little sense of normalcy again. Let’s get back to what makes this a great place.”
Danuser chuckled when he heard that women’s volleyball team members were wondering why there was so much noise in the Arena before they came out for their home opener.
Little did they know that the nationally acclaimed “biggest party in college basketball” was about to become the biggest party in college volleyball, too – a record crowd of 7,111 vigorously cheered every point.
There were so many early arrivals, 600 students sat outside in the heat for at least three hours to get in for Lope-A-Palooza. While parents and other fans had first dibs on the north side of the Arena for the volleyball match, they were replaced after dark by a wristbanded line of Havocs that stretched all the way past the Quad.
“We’re really pushing to get students involved early and often, and we’re trying to expand and make sure we’re hitting other sports,” Gillespie said. “We want to make sure we’re known not only as a basketball student section but as a student section for all the sports here at GCU.”
As if the dancing and screaming and jumping during the volleyball match wasn’t enough, the Havocs were moving nonstop during Lope-A-Palooza.
The eardrum-testing display of youthful exuberance featured the Cheer and Dance teams, the Thundering Heard Pep Band and Thunder leading a constant drumbeat of highly energetic songs that every single student seemed to know by heart.
It included a video spotlighting GCU Athletics’ many successes in 2020-21, introductions of the various teams, T-shirt Time (of course), Thundering Heard’s drum line, information about the Havocs Pro Pass (went on sale Sunday and sold all 2,800 in 30 minutes), the theme of Midnight Madness on Oct. 1 (“Stranger Things”) and a perfect flying dunk off a trampoline by Thunder. (See photographer Ralph Freso‘s slideshow here.)
“We’re back full force this year, so we’re really pushing the Havocs Pro Pass,” Weeks said. “Midnight Madness will be the grandest show we’ve seen so far. That’s just a gift to give to the students after the year that we had.”
That’s why Gillespie arranged his classes to make sure he could come back for a second year of leading the Havocs. Last year just wasn’t satisfying enough even though basketball coaches visiting GCU Arena still were amazed by how much noise a few hundred Havocs could make amid the cardboard cutouts that had to pass for a “crowd.”
“Last year was like practice and chaos,” he said. “It was a lot of things that I think we’re all ready to move on from.”
The moving on started at Move-In, beginning a celebration of the hope that 2021-22 will be a much different year.
“People are ready to go to events again,” said Charity Norman, Director of Welcome Programs. “Our featured Welcome Week events have always been big. Our night events have always drawn thousands of students. But this year, especially, coming off of 2020 … Welcome Week is definitely back with a bang.”
The new appointment Move-In, in its second year, also popped with precision.
“All in all, it was a smooth process,” she said. “That seems to be the word of the week – smooth. People are like, ‘How’s Move-In going? Smooth! It’s going smooth!’
“It’s much more predictable. We think it creates a better experience for parents. We’ve heard that a lot.”
The 45-minute appointment gives students and their parents time to park in a designated spot next to the residence hall and, with the help of volunteers in most cases, walk in together.
“It gets to be more of a family experience,” Norman said. “Take your time, calm the nerves, lower the heart rate.”
And save the raised heart rate for Lope-A-Palooza. Person after person greeted Danuser cheerfully as he stood outside the Arena afterward, still savoring the experience. Back with a bang, indeed.
“I get a little tired of the long summer break,” he said. “I love getting back on campus and feeling this energy again.”
And how’s the voice?
“Surprisingly good,” he said. “But I’m not in yelling shape yet.”
He’d better work on it. The Havocs are back, Midnight Madness is less than a month away and basketball season isn’t far behind.
It’s party time in the Arena again. And it couldn’t be more welcome.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].
GCU Today: The Welcome Week that was, via social media
GCU Today: Slideshow: Silent Disco
GCU Today: Slideshow: Project L
GCU Today: Slideshow: Spirit of Welcome Week
GCU Today: Slideshow: Canyon Cool Down
GCU Today: Slideshow: Move-In