Kids give Letters to Thunder a stamp of approval

Fifth grade students of GCU alumna Ann Hathaway, who teaches reading at Gateway Pointe Elementary School in Gilbert, Arizona, wrote to Thunder during the pandemic, which inspired the Letters to Thunder Classroom Edition.

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

Dear Thunder:

You have probably never seen me or heard about me, but I’m going to tell you a little bit about me.

I like Roblox and Minecraft.

What’s your favorite game, and how fun are the basketball games? I saw all the fun videos. They look SUPER fun. I really want to meet you and go to one of the sports games.

One more thing: Can you come to our school? I would love to meet you. … Please come. Our whole class wants to see you.

P.S.: Goodbye! And on the back, I drew a picture of me.

It’s no big mystery. But Thunder, Grand Canyon University’s charismatic mascot, is the big man on campus.

“I have small kids and I was trying to think of ways to keep them entertained, and they’re obsessed with Thunder. I think sometimes I underestimate that Thunder has quite the following,” Athletics Marketing Manager Christina Wagner said.

It’s why Wagner and her team came up with Letters to Thunder as part of its Junior Lopes Club, a free club for youth ages 12 and younger that started about seven years ago as a way to engage young Lopes fans. Most summers, GCU invites Junior Lopes Club members to campus for athletic events and other activities.

“But this past summer, with COVID-19 protocols and not being able to have fans on campus, we thought it would be fun if they could write in to Thunder and Thunder would write them back,” Wagner said.

So the Athletics Marketing Department launched Letters to Thunder in May.

More than 50 letters arrived over the summer for the cheeky, fun-loving antelope mascot.

Christina Wagner

“And they’re still trickling in,” Wagner said.

The letters are signed, sealed and delivered not only from Junior Lopes Club members but from other young fans who happened to see Letters to Thunder posted online. Junior Lope or not, one thing Thunder's young fans have in common is that they want to know everything about their favorite mascot:

“Where do you live? Do you live in a dorm?”

“What are you majoring in at GCU?”

“How old are you?”

“What’s your favorite sports team?”

“Do you miss your mom?”

GCU alumna and fifth grade teacher Ann Hathaway stumbled upon Letters to Thunder when she was on the GCU Lopes website.

“I decided it would be super fun for our students to write to Thunder as an activity for them,” she said. “I am a reading teacher, so I used this activity to help support our writing teacher.”

The school where Hathaway teaches, Gateway Pointe Elementary School in Gilbert, Arizona, emphasizes the No Excuses University mindset. The campus’ community believes every student has the right to be educated in a way that prepares them for college.

As part of the campuswide initiative, each classroom has adopted a university.

“Since I graduated from GCU, I knew it would be the college I wanted to represent,” Hathaway said.

Every day, she carves out a little No Excuses University time, when Gateway Pointe faculty members school their homeroom students about their chosen university.

Thunder is getting ready to send a Letters to Thunder package to Gateway Pointe Elementary.

“I teach the students the fight song, about campus life, sports and even the mascot," she said. "When I attended GCU, I was a Discover host and loved going to the basketball games, so I knew this would be something I wanted to teach my students about.”

Hathaway’s homeroom class of fifth graders wrote to Thunder, which spurred the Athletics Marketing team to create a spin-off: the Letters to Thunder Classroom Edition.

Classes write to Thunder and, in return, they receive a handwritten note from him and a student-athlete. The class also gets a surprise box packed with confetti, GCU swag and free tickets to a game. And they're invited to join the Junior Lopes Club, which has grown from 300 members to about 1,200 in the past two years.

Club members receive a passport and collect stamps at home games that can be redeemed for prizes. They also are invited to participate in activities and exclusive events, can attend an end-of-year party with a friend, and can earn free gear for attending GCU’s NCAA home sporting events.

“It’s just growing,” Wagner said of the Junior Lopes Club. “Every sporting event that we have, we market it and we get 40-50 new sign-ups.”

Besides launching Letters to Thunder, Wagner’s team is creating a workbook for Junior Lopes that invites them to pick what residence hall they might want to live in if they were a student at GCU, what they might want to study or where they would eat lunch.

“They kind of make their own storybook based on the different options at GCU,” she said. “It helps them kind of have fun with it.”

Hathaway sees Letters to Thunder as a way for her students to get in touch with the long lost art of letter-writing. Since email and texting are how most people communicate over long distances these days, letter-writing is something old-school that children might not have done before, except for maybe mailing that annual letter to Santa.

“There is just something so fun about writing a letter and receiving one in the mail,” Hathaway said.

Wagner sees the activity as something simple: an innocent activity for children who just want to connect with their favorite antelope buddy. Plus, they get something cool in the mail.

“I think for the kids to get a package in the mail – and it’s a big purple box that says ‘Open Carefully’– that’s got to be exciting.”

***

Letters to Thunder, Classroom Editiongculopes.com/letterstothunder

Junior Lopes Club: Sign up here

Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

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Bible Verse

David said to Michal, "It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when He appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel — I will celebrate before the Lord. (2 Samuel 6:21)

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