By Cooper Nelson
GCU Today Magazine
Pop quiz : Why is Grand Canyon University ’ s nickname the Antelopes ? What ’ s the significance of purple ? And what ’ s the backstory of how Thunder got his name ?
Don ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate know ? Don ’ metric ton worry. Most students and employees know identical little about this region of University history — and they ’ re not to blame. Records are by and large anecdotal, found in old school yearbooks and passed down from longtime employees and alumni such as Faith Weese, headman University relations officer ; L.E. “Sharky” Baker, Class of 1956 ; Mildred Brazell, wife of former baseball coach Dave Brazell ; and late theology professor Dr. J. Niles Puckett .
For a GCU history lesson, we spoke with Sharky ’ s nephew, Senior Associate Athletic Director Keith Baker. The alumnus and 32-year University veteran qualifies as the house physician campus historian and knows the answers to those questions, including how an much mocked beast of effect closely became GCU ’ s mascot.
“ We were close to being the Donkeys, ” he said. “ The Grand Canyon University Donkeys is not closely as marketable ( as Antelopes ), in my heed. ”
Antelopes have represented GCU good. The “ Lopes ” dub, which has become iconic in Arizona and the Southwest, led to the universe of GCU ’ s beloved mascot “ Thunder, ” which is rooted in the rumbling sound of an antelope herd migrating across the plains, and the “ Lopes Up ” hand symbol, a hit on campus and beyond ( you ’ ve seen the billboards, right ? ). Antelopes, like GCU, are elegant and graceful yet powerful and quick. They have a keen sense of what ’ south ahead .
The antelope besides is steeped in GCU custom — the pronghorn antelope is native to the Arizona Strip, north of the Colorado River. The antelope has acrobatic appeal — the pronghorn is the second fastest land mammal in the world .
And the antelope is strange among mascots : GCU is the only university with the “ Lopes ” nickname and one of entirely three with an antelope mascot. The University of Nebraska at Kearny calls its teams the Lopers, and the University of Lethbridge ( Alberta, Canada ) goes by Pronghorns or precisely “ Horns. ”
The backstory on all things Lopes
In 1949, the year Grand Canyon College opened in Prescott. Ariz., students chose the Antelope as the official mascot in a schoolwide vote before the first basketball season, Keith Baker said .
Some students wanted an animal mascot that represented the namesake of the University, the Grand Canyon, while others wanted it to symbolize Prescott. Finalists were Antelopes and the far-out “ Beasts of Burden, ” venerating the donkey that transported visitors on the Grand Canyon ’ s steep and rocky trails .
“ Dr. Puckett summed up the vote best, saying, ‘ I think the students made the better choice, ’ ” Keith Baker said .
GCU ’ mho school colors and mascot besides were decided by students. The school colors had been maroon and amber in Prescott, but when GCU moved to Phoenix in 1951 students voted to change them to purple and white to distinguish them from Arizona State University ’ randomness colors. Black and grey were added to the official color family in 1987 when early men ’ second basketball passenger car Paul Westphal introduced black road jersey. yellow returned as an stress color in 2014.
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purple represents Christ ’ s royalty and divinity, Keith Baker said .
“ Christian schools frequently selected either red ( rake of Christ ) or blue ( royal linage ), ” he said. “ Purple is a combination of the two, representing the spill of Christ ’ south blood as the ultimate sacrifice from His divine/royal nature. ”
Thunder ’ s arrival was more recent. GCU has had an antelope mascot since 1981, wisely replacing the inaugural mascot, a furred purple blob known as the “ Purple People Eater. ” But the antelope is believed to have been formally named Thunder in 2008. Before that, he went by “ Andy the Antelope, ” “ Johnny Lope ” and just “ the mascot. ”
Ruth Nsubuga was the first Thunder, from 2005 to 2012, and she was known for her dancing moves at athletic events .
“ Thunder started out doing photograph shoots and community events, and then we brought him to the entertainment side, ” said Nsubuga, an alumnus and University admissions representative. “ now he ’ s rappelling from the ceiling and is means more athletic. To see him grow and become this huge is cool. ”
today ’ mho Thunder is muscular, wears a No.49 basketball new jersey ( for GCU ’ sulfur founding year ) and is known for his barbarian antics and dunking off trampolines at basketball halftimes. He has closely rock-star condition, and people of all ages adore him .
Alumnus Taylor Griffin, GCU ’ s director of in-game entertainment, works closely with Thunder and said the mascot ’ sulfur emergence is depart of creating a professional-level atmosphere at home athletic events .
People outside GCU have taken notice, excessively. Zuper Stars, a touring inflatable-mascot halftime show, performed at GCU last class and pronounced Thunder “ the best mascot in the country. ”
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Said Griffin, “ Thunder has kind of become the face of the University. He represents GCU ’ s rise and professional increase. ”
Donkeys may rise from the trails of the Grand Canyon, but it seems that antelopes were the proper beast to carry GCU ’ south dub .
● For a slideshow on Thunder ’ sulfur development, click here .