Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau
A good indicator of the excitement for Lope-A-Palooza, Grand Canyon University's rousing Friday whoop to Welcome Week, was at the very front of the student line, which started near the entrance to GCU Arena and snaked throughout campus.
Five students, first in line, arrived at 3:15 p.m.
Lope-A-Palooza started at 7:49 p.m.
“I really wanted to see what this was all about,” said Audrey Hamilton, who like her freshmen brethren had heard about the extreme energy produced by GCU Spirit Programs. “And I wanted to get connected.”
Hamilton already had accomplished one of her goals, passing the time talking and laughing with four young women who joined her at the front.
“We didn’t even know each other before this,” said Sonja Elstad.
By 7:10 p.m., when the doors were flung open and students poured like a waterfall down the aisles and filled most of the 7,000 seats in the Arena, the music was pumping. And students can’t sit still when music is pumping.
Many were shown on the big screen “shakin’, shakin’, shakin’" to the Thundering Heard Pep Band version of “Fireball.”
What a rousing introduction to college life.
“The idea of college can be a fantasy,” said Paul Koch, Director of Bands. “New people can see it is like a fantasy. And older people can remember what it’s like, too.”
Koch was, in fact, kicking up his heels to the music.
“I don’t dance well,” he said. “But I like to have fun.”
So did everyone else Friday night.
In fact, the event serves to help new students see that they can get involved and catch the spirit at GCU, Koch said. His Thundering Heard, along with GCU’s Cheer, Dance, the Havocs and mascot Thunder led it.
By 7:33 p.m., when the students were in full throat singing “Sweet Caroline” (“so good, so good”), they were ready for Paul Danuser, the popular public address announcer, to take the microphone and welcome the crowd to another year at GCU “with the best student section in the United States of America.”
The cheerleaders did flips, Thunder thundered, the Dance team danced. It was all silver pompoms and spirit as Danuser called for newbies to learn the school fight song and “paint the Valley purple.”
“It’s just a very electric atmosphere,” said Antonio Borjas, a junior from Fresno who is a Havoc leader. “And there is this whole sense of community.”
Borjas was wearing a cloth astronaut helmet, his signature game-day gear that looked like it had been through a few overtimes.
“I’ve had it since high school. I do wash it out by hand,” he said.
This was not a sit-down event.
The athletic teams, introduced one by one and wearing matching T-shirts, did their own jump-arounds as they appeared on the big screen.
Then, the Havoc leaders called for a Lopes chant – it’s a vital lesson – whereby arms are raised and hands snap together like a trap, creating a thunder clap and a stunning visual of thousands acting as one organism, opening and closing to the shout of “Lopes!”
The 53 members of Cheer led it all.
“I think it shows them the energy for the next four years,” said Sam Hesman, a junior Cheer member. “This is a place where you don’t see some people not into it. What’s so cool is that everyone is invested.”
It sets the tone for the year, Koch said, and lets students know they can be a part of GCU history. Even its start time – 7:49 p.m. – was cleverly planned to match the school’s founding year (1949) in military time.
"Each year, this event just gets better and better -- this year was no exception,” said Jacque Genung-Koch, Dance Team Head Coach. “From the collaborative effort it takes to plan, create, and rehearse a production of this size, to the incredible excitement our GCU students arrive with at 19:49, there’s no place we’d rather be on a Friday night of Welcome Week."
The effort paid off, if you believe the freshmen pouring out into the desert night afterward for more dancing at Infuse in the Quad, including a surprised Janika Pope of Durango, Colo.
"It was super hyped," she said. “It’s a great atmosphere to make everyone feel welcome. There aren’t people who feel like not participating. Everyone is helping to get tuned into what it’s all about.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.