Juiced up Lope-A-Palooza impresses freshmen

Students shower GCU Arena with spirit during Friday's Lope-A-Palooza.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

As a former Grand Canyon University cheerleader and the current GCU Spirit Programs Manager, Jesi Weeks knows the impact of Lope-A-Palooza.

“I like to say that this is a pep rally on steroids, and Midnight Madness is more of a production and a story that we're telling,” Weeks said with a smile.

Unraveling with excitement is the call of the day at Lope-A-Palooza.

Lope-A-Palooza, GCU’s biggest pep rally and one of the signature events of Welcome Week, more than fulfilled the expectations of the student body that packed GCU Arena well in advance of Friday night’s festivities.

“I'm a freshman, so I really didn’t know even what to expect,” said Sage Dudman of Las Vegas. “But the volleyball game was fun, and I should have taken energy drink before this (event).”

The Havocs, GCU’s relentlessly spirited student section, already formed a line of at least 100 students along the Theology Building six hours prior to the start of Lope-A-Palooza festivities.

Sophomore Gabe Vander Klock of the GCU Flight Crew goes airborne as the team performs during Lope-A-Palooza.

And the Havocs and about 7,000 other students sustained plenty of energy even after watching the women’s volleyball team beat Long Island in three games, as well as rooting Iowa State to victory over Arizona.

As the starting time approached, the lights dimmed, the spotlights shined on the crowd, a drone buzzed around the arena, and the students clapped rhythmically to “Sweet Dreams” before singing loudly in unison to Bon Jovi's “Livin’ on a Prayer” before they received a formal welcome to Lope-A-Palooza 2023.

School spirit is on full display during Lope-A-Palooza.

The Spirit Programs, comprised of Dance, Cheer, Thunder, the Havocs and the Thundering Heard Pep Band, showed no signs of weariness from the weeklong heat and previous Welcome Week performances as they engaged the crowd.

“This is my third year as a Havoc,” Luke Stoffel, Havocs president said. “It is exciting just to see the behind-the-scenes stuff and see it all come together.

“And also for the first-year students, I'm sure you want to leave a message that this is just a springboard to better things throughout the year.”

Hot dog costumes are welcome at the raucous pep rally.

Mission accomplished, according to freshmen Brady Francisco of Simi Valley, Calififornia, and Maddie Meola of Omaha, Nebraska.

“The energy is just absolutely incredible,” Francisco said. “It's like you totally feel it from everybody on campus and everybody that was in the Arena.”

Said Meola: “I saw the Instagram (posts) and the promotions on the Promenade when they had the tents up. We had a meeting with our RAs (resident assistants), and everyone in the meeting was going to Lope-A-Palooza.”

One new addition to the rally was the acknowledgement of the Division I men’s and women’s programs, Club Sports and groups such as Spiritual Life and the Associated Students of GCU (ASCGU).

Students get fired up for the year.

Weeks said the decision to include those groups accurately depicts GCU’s efforts in the community, which makes the University stand alone in its brand.

“I think it's really a step in the right direction from the perspective that it's everybody on campus that is going to create a community,” Francisco said. “It is not one specific group. So they did a great job with that. And you really saw that throughout the night.”

A “Welcome to the Party” Havocs flag says it all at Lope-A-Palooza.

Everyone associated with Lope-A-Palooza found their way to fulfilling GCU’s slogan of “Find Your Purpose.”

Hundreds of students either had their faces painted in purple and white, sported beads, ski goggles, headbands and even purple cowboy hats.

As soon as the doors to the Arena opened, students (including many Havocs) charged up the stairs.

“We had our leaders all around campus this week,” Stoffel said. “So we'd like to be the kind of party on campus, and people are excited about that.”

Abby Hedberg and members of Dance perform during Lope-a-Palooza at GCU Arena.

Once the zany rush subsided, two pairs of students managed to carry a rectangular table up 42 steps until reaching the top of the 100 level.

Spirit Programs displayed their strength in numbers. According to Weeks, the Thundering Heard Pep Band is comprised of 140 members, joined by 60 cheerleaders and 38 dance team members.

And Stoffel is the top executive among 18 Havoc Leaders.

“We start working on Lope-A-Palooza, and then I'll tag on Midnight Madness starting in April of the previous school year,” Weeks said. “So we prepare all summer for it, and it is just intense focus, meetings and planning. By the time we get here, we are ready for it.”

Cheer hypes up the crowd.

Also introduced was GCU's 2023-24 Flight Crew, a seven-member group that performed several acrobatic dunks to the delight of students.

The Flight Crew's performance could be perceived as a tune-up for Midnight Madness, an event celebrating the start of the men and women’s basketball seasons. Midnight Madness is scheduled Oct. 6 and is destined to re-create the same excitement as Lope-A-Palooza.

“That’s where we’re kind of in full force, but this (Lope-A-Palooza) is a great start to the year,” Stoffel said.

As well as one of GCU’s biggest growth spurts. Weeks recalls she was a cheerleader when GCU Arena opened in 2011 to a small student section.

Thundering Heard Pep Band director Paul Koch takes a selfie with the band.

“So, 13-14 years later, just to be the person running the event ... It is just a beautiful thing," Weeks said. "And I am so grateful that I have to go on this journey from when we started to where we are, and we get to continue to build on that.”

GCU senior writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]

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Slideshows: Spirit Programs' Office Rally, Silent Disco, Welcome Back at the CAC, Project L, First day of Welcome Week

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