Whether dancing wildly at a sports game, posing for pictures or waving hello in a parade, GC’s mascot Thunder is definitely one of the college’s most rambunctious features.
The idea of Thunder came not from the university, but instead from an enthusiastic student named Jason Hendrix who graduated in 2009 with a degree in management information systems.
Hendrix was a GC athletics superfan who ran cross country and track during his tenure at GC. He was part of a group called the Thundercats who attend every GC sports game and cheer on their fellow Bobcats.
According to the GC Connection Spring 2008 edition, Hendrix won tickets to go see the NCAA Final Four. When he got there, he realized very quickly that GC needed a mascot.
Hendrix and his friends in the Thundercats decided that it was time for a mascot to be born, so they began researching other schools’ mascots to figure out what it would take to get GC a mascot.
While Hendrix was part of Thundercats, now Thunder Crew, he designed a lot of the Thundercats’ logos as well as took lots of pictures.
He said that when they started designing the mascot, they used the Bobcat head on Front Campus as a template.
Hendrix knew that they couldn’t just make a mascot suit on their own, that they have to be specially designed by a professional. He reached out to Tom Sapp, who runs Real Characters Inc., to create a mascot for GC. Sapp’s work includes Albert and Alberta for University of Florida, Harry Hawk for the Atlanta Hawks and Hairy for the University of Georgia.
Sapp and Hendrix met up in late May and early June of 2007 to get to work on the mascot, with the heavy designs coming in September of 2007 and the deadline for completion being around anksgiving of 2007.
Sapp and Hendrix decided that the total price for a real mascot suit would be around $23,000.
Hendrix first asked his friends to chip in a few bucks, and then he asked his fellow Thundercats to start raising money for this GC mascot. Then they petitioned the Student Government Association (SGA) for funds. SGA said that they could not give him any money because they were not a Registered Student Organization (RSO), so he jumped through the hoops of becoming one.
After petitioning SGA and raising money from his friends and his fellow students, the movement really started to gain traction when the university decided to step in and covered the rest of the cost.
The suit was finished during Thanksgiving of 2007, and Hendrix took time off of his school break to go to Atlanta and have private meetings with Sapp.
Sapp measured Hendrix, who is 6-feet-2 and a half inches tall, for the suit. Still to this day, the suit ts someone that is 6-foot-1 to 6-foot-3.
The mascot was finished but unnamed Hendrix designed an 8-by-11 sheet with pictures of the mascot and five potential names for students to decide on. The Thundercats tabled at sports games and on campus, letting students take a sheet and circle the name they wanted.
The potential names that students could pick were Scratch, Paws, Prowler, Kool and, of course, Thunder.
Thunder received the most votes, and Thunder the Bobcat was born.
After picking the name Thunder, students could also vote for Thunder’s theme song, ultimately choosing Thunderstruck by ACDC.
Hendrix said that once everything was chosen, they still had to reveal Thunder.
Al Weston, GC’s assistant athletic director in Communications said that Thunder was revealed during a Bobcat Madness event. Hendrix wore the full suit, except for the head, and contorted himself into a hockey goalie bag.
Weston said the bag was dragged out into the center of the basketball court, and the head was placed nearby in a box. the lights were lowered, and all of the cheerleaders gathered around in a big circle and performed a routine.
Hendrix said that while the lights were still down he popped out of the bag and put the head on. The lights were raised, and Thunder was revealed for the first time.
Hendrix said that he was Thunder for most of 2008, but towards the tail end of 2008 and into 2009, he had torn his MCL and broke his foot while running, and he was not able to be Thunder for a while.
Hendrix trained another person to be the mascot while he was recovering, making two mascots. When his senior year started, he felt better and was cleared to be the mascot again.
Thunder has changed by bits and pieces every single year. For example, the tail on a real bobcat is short, but Thunder has a long tail. Hendrix said that the current Bobcat head looks friendlier and bubblier than it used to, but the original design can still be seen on Front Campus where the Bobcat head is displayed.
Even though the suit was originally built by Hendrix and made to fit someone of his stature, University Advancement, which are now in charge of Thunder, says that Thunder is gender neutral.
According to Mimi Patel, who directly oversees the scheduling of Thunder, they do not charge for any RSO or student organization that requests the mascot’s appearance. She said that sometimes community members will request Thunder, and they can be subjected to a fee.
Being Thunder has a few requirements, however, because the suit can get hot for the student inside. Since students can only be in the suit for 45 minutes, Patel said sometimes a few people will go to an event, and when the 45 minutes is up, they will switch places and restart the clock.
Patel also said that even though an organization might request Thunder, they don’t always receive their request in case it could be dangerous for the student inside. For example, you cannot have Thunder come to your apartment and clean your dishes for you.
No matter the venue though, Thunder is required to have a private dressing room to protect the privacy of the student and to prevent anyone from knowing who is inside. Patel said it is the goal for no one to know who is inside the suit until the student graduates.
If a student wants to become Thunder, they are encouraged to apply for the position through Handshake or at the part-time job fair each year. In order for a student to become Thunder, there is a judging process where the student shows off their routine in front of current Thunders as well as athletic faculty. This year, Dr. Dorman was also in attendance.
Hendrix said he loved being interviewed by e Colonnade about Thunder because he said that even after 11 years, he’s still getting asked about what he created. This past weekend, Hendrix was invited back for an alumni banquet where he received the Outstanding Recent Alumni award.
Today, Hendrix lives in Florida where he is married and works as the director of communications for the Florida Sports Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to improving and developing the sports industry in Florida communities. The organization promotes sports tourism in the state of Florida and encourages active participation by all ages in sports.
“Thunder wasn’t necessarily a claim to fame, but it’s something that when I go back to GC in 30 or 40 years from now, I’m going to be recognized for that for years to come,” Hendrix said.