Student Affairs employees climb to department unity

Spiritual Life’s Chris Jennings climbs the rock wall Wednesday at the Canyon Activity Center during the Student Affairs Summer Olympics.

Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Ralph Freso

GCU News Bureau

A competition for the coveted Dr. Tim Griffin trophy – topped with a likeness of the Vice President of Student Affairs’ smiling, non-bobbled head – is on the line every summer.

The Tim Griffin trophy for the GCU Student Affairs Summer Olympics.

The Student Affairs Summer Olympics are no laughing matter although there are plenty of laughs.

“It turned into competition between (Student Affairs) departments,” said Zach Erdmann, Intramural Recreation Manager, whose group had a post-pandemic inspiration last summer to start the friendly bimonthly lunch-hour games of sport and smarts, everything from pickleball to frisbee golf, cornhole to trivia.

On a July lunch hour at the Canyon Activity Center, the competition was at the climbing wall, where more than two dozen employees witnessed an epic battle to scale it fastest.

“We’ve always been a pretty competitive department,” said Chris Jennings of Spiritual Life, limbering up. “Maybe too competitive.”

Not that he’d mention last year’s “controversy.” OK, maybe he would.

It seems Campus Recreation won the Griffin trophy amid rumors (without evidence) of rigged scoring. Points are awarded for the top three finishers, team spirit, number of participants, etc.

“The group that put it together made the rules and did the scoring, so it got a little testy,” Erdmann said with a laugh. “This year it's all above board. Total transparency.”

It’s all about the fun– and the ribbing, staying active, connecting – to keep the community of GCU together in the summer.

Spiritual Life’s Verleea Hardaway climbs the wall at the Canyon Activities Center.

“I’ve been here eight years, and as we get bigger it’s challenging to stay connected,” Erdmann said. “At the end of the day, this is about meeting people. It brings some out of their shell and encourages them to try new things.”

It also exposes them to the many things that Campus Recreation does on campus. The other departments can share those activities with students.

“A lot of people have never climbed before, and this exposes them to it,” he said.

His Campus Rec is in third place this year heading into the final weeks of the Olympics at the end of July, and those competitive Spiritual Life folks lag behind only the large team of Residence Life, which didn’t climb because of training sessions.

That’s why this climb was important, and Jennings was fired up, making it to the quarterfinals.

“Most of us are here because it’s fun and it’s a good way to interact with other departments that you don’t see a lot during the year,” Jennings said. “It’s been a ton of fun."

Intramurals’ Zach Erdmann (center) offers up Rock-Paper-Scissors to climbers Cole Hanson (left) and Parker Lane to pick which route they climb.

Especially for new employees. Jamil Calero, Global Outreach ministry coordinator, is only in his second week of work. He couldn’t stop smiling and said he was encouraged to see people coming together at his new workplace.

He hadn’t climbed in five years but also zoomed into the quarterfinals.

But a surprise late entry, a real ringer, dug his hand in his bag of resin and took on the field. He’s Cole Hanson, Outdoor Recreation coordinator. No fair. He climbs mountains for breakfast.

“It’s a ton of fun. My first year on staff I didn’t know a lot of people. Some, I didn’t even know their names,” he said of the COVID era. “You stay in your little area, so to meet people really helps.”

But as the small crowd got in full throat and Hanson climbed to the finals, there was a surprise awaiting him on the other end of the wall.

Noah Powers, a young web marketing guy from Club Sports.

Club Sport’s Noah Powers reaches for the final rock on his climb.

Surely, he couldn’t win. He’d never climbed the wall before. Yet this lithe athlete appeared to gobble up the holds like Pac-Man.

He had a bit more gas in the tank, Hanson said, breathing hard.

“I just love competition,” said Powers, not breathing hard. “But it’s also been great to meet more people on campus.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

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Related content:

GCU Today: Outdoor Rec trips ascend to heavenly harmony

GCU Today: Student leaders set the tone for GCU’s campus vibe

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