It is Thursday of AYF Olympics Weekend. It is one of the days many of us look forward to every year. It is the annual gathering of families and friends…of AYFers. It is the beginning of a celebration of our wonderful way of being Armenian, to beam with pride watching our young people compete in various sports, to dance long into the night to wonderful Armenian music, and to catch-up with folks we haven’t seen for a year. It is the day people start arriving at the AYF Olympics, this year in Chicago.
The amazing committee has been at work for over a year planning, preparing, coordinating, and then planning, preparing and coordinating some more. They are ready. We are ready. The great city of Chicago, an attraction in itself, is always ready. The weather is lovely, the hotel—the Hyatt Regency O’Hare—is phenomenal and practically sold out, coaches are working with their teams on last minute guidance and strategy, musicians working out set lists and tuning up, and lots of people are packing and preparing to travel… tebi Chicago.
This, the 86th Annual Olympics of the Armenian Youth Federation, promises to be something special. The committee’s “Meet Us in the Middle” and the appeal of Chicago itself have attracted record breaking attendance from the West Coast. This will make for a new, different, interesting mix of people where we get to meet and make new friends and reacquaint ourselves with old friends that we haven’t seen for too long. As for me, I will be meeting a cousin of mine from Australia for the first time.
Who will win the Olympics? Certainly, the powerhouses of Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Detroit and Providence will be here vying for the Olympic Trophy. But, the west coast athletes will be a force to reckon with as well. The games start on Friday with tennis, golf, swimming, and, for the first time, three-on-three basketball. All the venues are close to the hotel. Go and watch some tennis, watch the golfers tee off, enjoy some basketball, and, of course, the swimming is always packed with cheering family and friends.
Saturday will be all about softball, the popularity of which has grown tremendously in the past several years. While there are no Olympic points granted for this competition, the competition is nonetheless vigorous with the teams playing for and fans rooting for pride. It is a full day of co-ed softball, it is a picnic with food and music, it is about hanging out with, well, everyone. It is the most casual fun time of the weekend and an Olympic experience not to be missed.
Needless to say, the Sunday track and field games is the root of where the Olympics started 86 years ago in Brockton. It is where the athletes march, the kings and queens of AYF Olympic glory are honored once again as they welcome this year’s inductees to that very special status. It is where the kiddie race warms our hearts as future AYF members and athletes run their first race. And, most certainly, it is where the most points can be won during the whole weekend. The stands will be packed and athletes will be ready to go.
While athletics are the central reason for AYF Olympic games, the weekend is equally about music, dancing and socializing. The organizing committee led by the very talented Ari Killian has put a star-studded program together. Armen Papazian is so good at bringing in the West Coast talent and filling the halls with adoring fans. I have dubbed him Chicago’s Impresario. We begin the festivities tonight with the very funny and insightful Vahe Berberian at Zanies, within walking distance of the Hyatt O’Hare, who will have us rolling in the aisles as he reveals the humorous side of being Armenian.
On Friday night, there are two dances! There will be the Alumni Dance featuring Chicago’s own Hye Vibes with guest stars Ara Topouzian and Ara Dinkjian. Come and savor Armenian delicacies, dance to the traditional Armenian music that has always been part of the AYF Olympics, and be there when they announce this year’s Olympic King and Queen and Varadian Spirit Award recipient.
The second dance on Friday is the AYF Gala – A Little Hayastan with Tigran Asatryan. Tigran is an amazing singer and entertainer backed up by a fabulous band. I am especially excited as I get to see and meet Suren Mehrabyan, the gifted oud, tar and guitar player, for the first time. Dance to the Hye Vibes at the Alumni Dance and then go and dance into the wee hours to Tigran and his band. Where else can you find this kind of line-up on the same night? Chicago, of course.
The music doesn’t only happen in the evenings. The Mideast Beat, another local traditional band, will provide the sound and dance track at the softball game on Saturday. Listen, dance and watch softball… what a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon in Chicago.
The Saturday Night Dance? It is none other than the iconic Harout Pamboukjian. Harout has becoming a staple of the AYF Olympics in this century. He always attracts a huge crowd of adoring fans, and he always rocks the joint. Go to softball, go have a great dinner, and then by all means get to the Rosemont Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency of O’Hare for Harout!
The Olympic Ball takes place on Sunday night. It is where all the Olympic trophies are presented, the high scorers are awarded, and the winning chapter of the Olympics is named. It where the chapter dances happen. And it is where Onnik Dinkjian and Hachig Kazarian will lead a band of AYF All Stars that includes Raffi Masoyan, Ara Dinkjian, Steve Vosbikian, Jim Kizirian and Michael Kazarian. What a cap to weekend of spectacular entertainment!
Want to know where all of this takes place? It is all happening this weekend in Chicago! More specifically, the welcome book is online for the first time in AYF Olympic history. It provides the times, locations and addresses for each and every event.
Chicago: Meet us in the middle… indeed.