Beavers Honor a Winner for Every Season in Canyon Hopkins

Canyon “Moose” Hopkins passed away on Oct. 24, ending a courageous battle against Stage 4 Soft Tissue Sarcoma-Synovial. One-hundred-fifty classmates, faculty, and friends joined the Hopkins family in honoring him with a vigil in Schaller Memorial Chapel.

Denton Hopkins’ last victory on the mound came during his senior year in 2012. He pitched two innings of relief in a 2-0 substate victory that sent Earlham High School to the Iowa High School State Baseball Tournament.

The only runs of the game came on a home run in the 11th inning, a drive smacked by eighth-grader Canyon Hopkins, Denton’s younger brother.

When an eighth-grader sends his team to the state tournament with a homer, it’s legendary. When the drive makes a winner of his senior brother on the mound, it’s surreal. Heavenly would be one word.

One-hundred-fifty Buena Vista University classmates, faculty, and friends joined the Hopkins family on Sunday evening in honoring Canyon “Moose” Hopkins with a vigil at Schaller Memorial Chapel on the BVU campus in Storm Lake. “Moose” died on Thursday, Oct. 24, ending a courageous 14-month battle against Stage 4 Soft Tissue Sarcoma-Synovial. His funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3, at Earlham High School’s South Gymnasium.

A candlelight vigil for Canyon Hopkins
President Joshua Merchant and Carrie Merchant light candles during a vigil held for Canyon Hopkins on Sunday night in Schaller Memorial Chapel. Canyon died on Thursday after a courageous 14-month battle against Stage 4 Soft Tissue Sarcoma-Synovial.

“Canyon’s diagnosis came the day before he was to leave to come back to BVU for his junior year,” Denton Hopkins said. “It crushed him not to be in the place he loved so much.”

Denton laughed and said his younger brother talked real fast in the days leading up to his junior year, a trait that showed his excitement for coming back, ready to tackle arduous accounting classes and the rigors of leading a basketball team, one he led as a starter each of the 26 games of his sophomore season.

Canyon returned to his team on a couple of occasions as he faced disease head-on, with a wide smile and the force of a moose. He took a spot on the bench in Siebens Fieldhouse and spent the last home game of the season advising his teammates in a victory over the Dubuque Spartans, the team he connected for a career-high 21 points one season earlier.

“He was brave. He helped us to be brave. Through his fight and the slogans that became popular here on campus and throughout Central Iowa, Moose taught us about determination and kindness.”

Joshua Merchant

Members of the basketball team filled two rows of seats behind Denton and his parents, Monte and Trish Hopkins, and Canyon’s longtime girlfriend, Chelsea Hildenbrand, a current BVU student, at the vigil.

Senior Clayton Christian, an accounting major who plays baseball for the Beavers, spoke of Canyon’s adventurous side in recalling how the two of them volunteered to represent their freshman seminar group in a canoe race on Storm Lake. “Neither one of us had ever been in a canoe before,” he said with a laugh. They gave it their all, paddling furiously with little sense of direction, ending up in the weeds as the winners crossed the finish line.

Christian shared other details that have emerged in the days following Canyon’s death, including the wide respect he’d earned among athletic opponents. 

A fan in Central Iowa, for example, remarked how Canyon personally congratulated each member of the Van Meter Bulldogs after the Bulldogs’ football victory over Earlham in the fall of his senior year. It wasn’t just the customary one-second “good game” utterance. Earlham’s biggest player on the field—and by many accounts, the best four-sport athlete in the conference at the time—demonstrated sportsmanship in big, genuine ways, too. (He earned a state tournament berth in four sports during his prep career.)

Everything about Canyon was big, Joshua Cole indicated with a smile. “I hated getting switched-on to Canyon during basketball practice because I ended up guarding him in the post,” he said.

Canyon, he said, spun once while making a move and inadvertently delivered an elbow (it was big, of course) into Cole’s sternum, knocking him flat. “I had a bruise on my chest for a week,” he said with a laugh. “I still maintain it was a charge, but coach didn’t call it.”

As students, family members, and BVU faculty and staff giggled, Cole talked about Canyon’s serious side, one that showed in long talks the accounting and business double-major had with friends and in his determination to beat cancer. 

The social media tags #Moosetrong, #FaithOverFear, and #Moose’sMilitia, in some ways, embodied Canyon’s personality, said BVU President Joshua Merchant, who noted that Canyon remained at the center of thoughts and prayers for thousands across Iowa.

Basketball players by the lake
This photo shows returning letter-winners and leaders for the 2017-18 BVU men’s basketball team. Canyon “Moose” Hopkins is No. 42, in the center of the photo. Joining him are, from left: David Jeffries, Connor Winkleman, Thomas Wisecup, Canyon Hopkins, Adam Juhl, Timothy Jeffries, and Grant Wright.

“After he was diagnosed, Moose helped rally all of us, he brought us together,” Merchant said. “He was brave. He helped us to be brave. Through his fight and the slogans that became popular here on campus and throughout Central Iowa, Moose taught us about determination and kindness.

“And to smile,” Merchant added. “I will always remember his smile.”

“Moose” offered his trademark smile as Merchant presented him a diploma on Oct. 17. Tears welled in his eyes for a second, and then he smiled, revealing how much BVU meant to him, a bond illustrated as a stream of friends and teammates came to his side as his time on earth drew short.

“Moose reminded me of what community is all about, what teamwork is, as I watched his basketball team enter tonight, walking in as one,” Merchant said. “This is a special place because of special students and special families, like Moose’s.”

As the vigil ended, Monte and Trish Hopkins joined Denton and Chelsea in doling out hugs, tears, and all sorts of smiles for those remembering the laughter amid the grief. Trish blew a kiss to the team as Monte took his place a few feet from the portrait of his giant son and glanced up and down those two rows of Beaver basketball players.

“Good luck this year,” Monte said with a smile. “We’ll be there for some games. And, Moose is going to be right with you every second; on the court, on the bench, every second.”