Thunder’s creator leaves cherished icon for GCSU and the community
Thunder’s creator leaves cherished icon for GCSU and the community
J ason Hendrix, '09, knew something important was missing when he attended the Georgia College & State University (GCSU) basketball games as a junior. The other teams had mascots, but GCSU didn't.
That's when Hendrix led the charge of the Thundercats—a rowdy, GCSU fan base comprised of Hendrix’s friends, which, in turn, lead to the creation of the university’s mascot “Thunder.”
When he wasn't running cross-country or working at The Colonnade, Hendrix was a sport photographer, traveling across the country capturing images at sporting events.
“I started seeing all these mascots from other universities,” Hendrix said. “That’s when my friend Chris McCorkle and I got the grandiose idea to have the students in their section wear costumes [to GCSU Basketball games]. We did some fun, crazy things. One student showed up in a cowboy outfit and another one wore a suit to look like a coach.”
Hendrix once sported a Spider-Man suit and, another time, a 12-inch mohawk.
Then, he became determined to create a Georgia College mascot.
Hendrix approached Stan Aldridge, former director of the Athletic Department about how to go about getting a mascot for GCSU. Aldridge told Hendrix the Thundercats should make this endeavor their own.
“Well, we did,” Hendrix said. “I took it as a semi-personal quest. I've always been told in my life that you can't do things. Yet, I've always found a way to get them done.”
During Homecoming, the Thundercats started collecting donations from alumni, students and local businesses. They weren’t raising enough money to purchase a mascot outfit, so Hendrix kept talking with mascots from other schools for advice.
In 2007, he attended the NCAA Final Four in Atlanta. The University of Florida; Georgetown University; University of California, Los Angeles; and The Ohio State University were all there with their mascots. They put Hendrix in touch with their spirit coordinators.
Hendrix asked them: “How did you get your mascot? What was the budget? Who controls the mascot—the university or a student organization?”
Those conversations led him to Tom Sapp of Real Characters, Inc. His mascot design work includes the University of Georgia’s Hairy Dawg, the Atlanta Hawks’ Harry, Michigan State University’s Sparty and the University of Florida’s Albert and Alberta Alligators.
Hendrix met with Sapp in April 2007 to discuss his vision for GCSU’s mascot.
“I came to the table with a document that included an image of our Bobcat head, GCSU’s colors, his size, pants and other things,” he said. “Then, he started building it.”
“We went from having a theoretical idea to how we are going to pay for all this stuff,” he said. “We nickeled and dimed everybody to start funding this mascot uniform.”
To apply for funds, Hendrix registered the Thundercats as a student organization through the Student Government Association (SGA). Yet, the donations coupled with the funds SGA provided didn’t quite give them enough to move forward on the mascot project.
Hendrix then met with former GCSU President Dr. Dorothy Leland.
“I told her, ‘I want to do this, because I want to give back to the university somehow in some way,’” Hendrix said. “’If I need to write letters to donors, or go door-to-door, I will. I guarantee you it will have a return on investment in 20, 50 and 70 years from now. You won't regret this decision.’”
After several more meetings, he got a phone call from President Leland, telling him his hard work had paid off. She funded his mascot project with a check for $25,000.
“I still get chills every time I talk about this,” he said. “It really hit me.”
With the aid of Thundercats’ advisor Alan Weston, Hendrix deposited the check into the Thundercats’ student organization account. Then, they bought the mascot’s costume and all the accessories. They also bought shirts for students to wear at games.
“It was a wow moment,” Hendrix said. “I literally called Tom Sapp as soon as we got that check, and he got his crew immediately on production of the suit, knowing we were trying to launch it in time for basketball season.”
The mascot was to be unveiled at the home game after Thanksgiving in 2007. But first came the decision of what to name the mascot. The Thundercats distributed flyers across campus for ideas. Options were “Kool,” “Paws,” “Prowler,” “Scratch” and “Thunder.”
When put to a vote, Thunder won. It was a proper homage to the Thundercats.
“Georgia College gave me the wheels to drive with the costume,” he said. “I made all the creative and visual appearance decisions of what Thunder would look like when it came to life off the pages of the previously produced artwork by Mr. Sapp. Then, once we finished, I handed it over to the university for approval.”
With oversight from Weston, Hendrix created the rules and regulations of Thunder for GCSU, accompanied by a waiver, code of conduct, type of events the mascot would attend, maintenance, storage and check-out process.
Then, it was time for Thunder’s reveal. Cheerleaders put Thunder’s head in the middle of the court. They circled around it, so no one could see.
In the meantime, Hendrix got into a huge blue duffel bag. Male cheerleader, Corey McTeer, walked it to the middle of the gym floor and sat it down. He unzipped it just enough for Hendrix to get his head out of the bag. They stuck the head on Hendrix. Then, when AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” played, Thunder popped out.
“This was a really cool experience,” Hendrix said. “The best part about it, was that it had never been done before. There was no pre-conceived notion of what should’ve been done. So, when it happened, it was organic.”
Thunder appeared in public for the first time during the “Hanging of the Greens” on campus that Christmas.
“I showed up as Thunder, wearing a Santa hat,” Hendrix said. “The next day I was on GCSU’s website with all these people hanging up the greens.”
Hendrix, who currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida, has been back to campus several times since then.
Most recently in 2018, Hendrix returned to campus to receive the “Young Alumni of the Year” award. He took a photo of his wife meeting Thunder for the first time. Eventually, he wants his three-year-old son, Micah, and four-month-old daughter, Addi, to meet the mascot, as well.
He’d also like for his kids to go to Georgia College. Maybe they can follow in their father’s footsteps.
“I love that other students have done it, since I was last the mascot in 2009,” Hendrix said. “Today, if you're the Georgia College mascot, you have the privilege of wearing Thunder’s iconic, oversized blue shoes at graduation. I'm so excited GCSU allows this because it’s a revered secret of Thunder’s identity. And it's really cool.”
One day, he’d like to support the many students who’ve continued his dream by endowing a scholarship for students who play Thunder.
“My end-all, be-all goal is to a leave a legacy,” Hendrix said. “I'm so glad to see what they've done with Thunder. The whole thing is super special to me, and I love it.”
During Thunder’s 15th birthday Nov. 26, Hendrix plans to tweet during the day about the history of GCSU’s mascot. You can follow his tweets at @JasonMHendrix.