Alashaians Keep AYF Olympic Name in the Forefront

What’s in a name?

Plenty, especially if the name is Alashaian and you’re talking the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Olympics. It spans three generations and marks a crescendo when it comes to New Jersey-ites.

Rosemary and Avo Alashaian at the 2016 AYF Olympics
Rosemary and Avo Alashaian at the 2016 AYF Olympics

It spills over to church, the political arena, Camp Haiastan, and everything else beneath that red, blue, and orange sunset.

Had you been in N.J. this past Labor Day, you would have seen the usual influx of activity from this domicile, upholding the adage, “the first thing a social climber wants is a family tree.”

It starts with Avo and Rosemary—two venerables who know no inertia. A year ago, Avo was diagnosed with esophagus cancer. After an influx of chemo and radiation, he was declared cancer free this past spring.

His doctors gave him a choice of removing the tumor or leaving it. Avo chose to have the surgery, resulting in some complications which affected his rehabilitation and recovery.

He showed up at the AYF Olympics in untypical character—clutching a walker yet holding court with those of his generation with Rosemary by his side. That stereotypical cigar he often gnawed never saw a lighter.

“Dad attended the night activities, along with some of the track events,” said Mark. “He really enjoyed watching his grandkids compete. They were able to catch up socially with their friends.”

How’s this for family pride? Avo was named an Olympic King in 1988 when the games took place in Philly. In 2007, Rosemary was crown Olympic Queen, joined by son Mark as King. There’s a fourth link to this royalty chain: Mark’s father-in-law Nick Stepanian was named King in Detroit in 1986.

For years, Mark Alashaian has been the voice of the Olympics, high above stadium side, calling all the results and updating patrons on standings.

It wasn’t so much the event announcing that set him apart as much as it was the innuendoes he would provide—those juicy little tidbits that complemented the scene.

If you think it’s easy talking (sometimes screaming!) into a microphone for eight hours at a stretch, go ahead and try it. By afternoon’s end, either the voice would go or the nervous system. He held it all in perspective through dedication and commitment to his craft.

It’s been this way for a decade now, ever since taking over for another familiar voice that belonged to Michael Najarian. Alashaian had just finished an eight-year stint on the AYF Olympics Governing Body and made a natural transition to the announcing booth.

“Yes, one year I did get laryngitis and got through the day,” he recalls. “Working with the Governing Body guys has always been a lot of fun.”

The stroke that debilitated him in April of 2014 was unexpected and felt throughout the Olympic circles. While it appeared uncertain about his recovery, Mark did bounce back enough to attend the Detroit games that year.

He didn’t announce that year, but his presence bolstered an anxious community-in-waiting, happy to embrace himself and his family.

“Now, I’m pretty much 100 percent recovered,” he divulges, back to coaching the New Jersey kids full-time. Who knows? Maybe they’ll ask me to announce again in Racine next year.”

Yes, the Olympics will next be hosted in Wisconsin for the second time, before returning to New England and Boston the following year.

The Alashaians leave no doubt to their Olympic spirit down through the ages. Avo and Rosemary both participated for the New York Hyortiks during their prime. Rosemary scored several times in the baseball throw and secured a gold medal in that event. Avo took part in swim relays that scored.

Father and son were, well, “pointless,” but if you counted the athletes they coached and recruited along the way, their presence became life in the fast lane.

The family athlete was son Richard, who tallied 48 points as a premiere distance runner in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200-meter races to win his share of medals. The sight of Avo racing along the track following his son’s exploits left an indelible mark.

Another son, Avi, also participated for many years for Watertown and N.J. in the old tug-of-war and softball events. Mark’s wife Nicole (Stepanian) participated for the Detroit “KT” chapter while scoring several times in golf.

The extended family includes Mark & Nicole’s two sons, Armen, 18, and Shant, 15. Richie and wife Vana (Kalayjian) are blessed with four children, Elizabeth, 9; Richard, 7; Gregory, 5, and Alexander, 1+.

Then there’s Avedis (Avi) and Meganoush (Abkarian) with their two kids, Lucine, 17, and Knar, 15.

Both Armen and Lucine were participants this year while the others are anxiously awaiting their turn once age permits.

Outside Olympics, the apple doesn’t fall far from the patriotic tree. Both elder Alashaians have stayed involved in the St. Illuminator’s Cathedral community. Avo has been a Board member several times while Rosemary has her Ladies Guild and represented the Armenian Churches Sports Association (basketball league) for several years.

Mark’s name is synonymous with Camp Haiastan over the past 13 years—two six-year terms, separated with one year being the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s (ARF) representative to the Board of Directors which he has chaired on and off over a decade.

“His contributions to the camp have been immense,” lauded Mesrob Odian, a former director. “Mark has gone above and beyond the call of duty to help create a wholesome environment for our youth and his efforts are well appreciated.”

A glutton for activity, Mark is also currently on the Board of Trustees at Sts. Vartanantz Church in Ridgefield, N.J., and has been coaching the basketball team over the past 12 years, along with the New Jersey Homenetmen teams the last eight.

Brother Avi has also managed to stay involved, coaching the church girls’ teams the past five years.

When the dust had cleared, N.J. registered 110.5 points to finish third in the standings for the third time in history. That happened to be a chapter record. More important than the score was having 41 athletes registered.

“Many of my former juniors were there competing,” said Mark. “Our kids not only participated but worked shifts throughout the weekend. We stressed the importance of being good hosts.”

As to any changes, the Alashaians look to inspire other families to get involved.

“We need more of these kids to be accompanied by their families,” he maintains. “I think it’s the family aspect that makes the AYF Olympics so unique and different. It’s a reunion of sorts. I really don’t care who wins, just so the kids come together, participate and have a good time.”

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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