It’s that time of year again. Summer is coming to close. The school year is beginning. However, for myself and others reading this, summer is far from over until after Labor Day, because for us, there are still the Armenian Youth Federation Olympics, which mark the end of summer and the start of Fall. This year, the 85th AYF Olympics are hosted by the Philadelphia “Sebouh” Chapter.
Last year, in Milwaukee, the Philadelphia team put a great team together and won the Olympics. This year, on their home turf, I am certain they have made every effort to secure a second win in a row. Will another team like Providence or Great Boston usurp the reigning champions? Will Detroit prevail in the softball? New Jersey? These are all things to look for as the weekend unfolds. The competition will be intense… but not as intense as the fraternalism.
We leave today for Phili. As usual, I am excited; not as excited as when I attended my first Olympics as an AYF member in 1969 in Providence, but still pretty excited. It is the excitement that comes with participating in an annual event that one loves to be a part of. It is the anticipation of seeing old friends and making new ones. For me, the new friends I make are the current AYF-ers that I get to watch compete in golf, tennis, swimming, softball, and track and field. I love watching them forge friendships and loves that will last a lifetime. And… I get to see them having fun together. They are an amazing group of young people.
There is an excitement, also, for returning to Philadelphia. It is a great city, with a vibrant and proud Armenian community (though if not for the AYF, I am not sure I would have had a chance to know it at all!). The “Sebouh” Chapter and Alumni has been hard at work for over a year now, preparing and planning the upcoming Olympics Weekend. They secured great facilities for the athletic events, a spectacular entertainment line-up, and a hotel in the city center (which is always a bonus). One can even walk to the historical sights of the city, the Rocky statue, and, of course, the famous Reading Terminal Market is right across the street from the hotel.
A special Philadelphia Olympic moment, for me, was when George Mgrdichian, the famed oud player, performed at the Friday Night Alumni Dance with his brother and others from the Gomidas band. I had heard him play before, but always in a concert setting where he was either solo or backed up by bass and dumbeg. In Philadelphia, his last time performing at an AYF event, I saw George perform with his old band to an enthusiastic AYF Alumni crowd who wanted to dance. George was amazing and AYF alumni danced with gusto. Yet, by the end of the evening, most of the dancing had stopped. Everyone had gathered around the stage to watch and listen to the master perform.
When talking about Philadelphia and Armenian music, it’s impossible not to mention the Fabulous Vosbikian Band, an amazing four-generation(going on five)-old family band that has roots in both Malatya and Philadelphia. They have a distinct sound, and a style that is recognizable no matter what genre of Armenian music they are performing. In previous Olympics, they have had as many as 15 or 20 musicians on stage (I never actually counted) representing three-generations of their family. I look forward to hearing them on Sunday joined by the legendary Onnik Dinkjian.
For us, the Gavoor family, the Olympics this year is even more meaningful. On June 3, 2018, the patriarch of our family, Aram Gavoor, passed away. He was AYF, through-and-through. He met my mother through the AYF and ours was an AYF family from day one. He loved the organization and the lifestyle that comes alongside it. He was Sonny to some and Uncle Sonny to others, though many AYF-ers a generation or three younger than he simply called him “Coach. He loved the AYF, and helping us all keep our Armenian roots. In this regard, he saw athletics as a key way to involve young people in the organization, which would further nurture their awareness and affinity for all things Armenian.
Before he passed, my father had not been able to attend the Olympic Games for several years. I knew it was really hard for him not to be there—though he enjoyed getting the daily articles in the Armenian Weekly and absolutely loved the AYF Olympics Special Issue.
Being back in Philadelphia for the 85th Annual AYF Olympics will be special; and that my Dad, the “Coach” and Olympic King, is there with all of us in spirit makes it all the more so.
Blessed and flourishing be the whole Armenian youth and the supporting benefactors. Amen