Saturday at the Chicago AYF Olympics

When I first started attending the AYF Olympics, Saturday was the least active day of the Olympics. Sure, there were track preliminaries and a dance, which was lightly attended, but overall, it was a free time for folks to explore the host city.

That is no longer the case. Saturday is for softball now. This year, it was also javelin day. Javelin day? More on that later. Harout Pamboukjian would also be performing. In recent years, Saturday at the AYF Olympics is a fantastic day.

Softball has transformed the AYF Olympics Saturday. Co-ed chapter teams play for two reasons: bragging rights and simply brilliant fun. The AYFers have a great time playing. All of their family and friends show up to watch and enjoy the games and cheer them on. It is simultaneously a picnic with the food we love. And sometimes, as this year, there is a band. People came and spent the whole day watching softball, eating, socializing, dancing and having an overall memorable AYF time.

The weather was again in the mid-70s. It was partly sunny and the perfect day for a softball tournament and an Armenian style picnic. The fields were a few miles from the hotel (no one has had closer venues to the hotel than this year in Chicago). During the games, the MidEast beat, another local band, provided a beautiful soundtrack of traditional Armenian music. Great weather, softball, kebab, music and dancing…what more did we need?

There were 10 chapter teams participating, one of which was a mixed team so that anyone who wanted to could participate. There were 10 total games played in this single elimination tournament. Detroit has been a powerhouse in the past several years. They were in the finals last year losing to Los Angeles. They had won the tournament the few years before that. They had a bye in the first round and played Providence in the second round. Let’s call it a rebuilding year as a good Providence team beat them 21-14. In the next round, Providence lost to New Jersey, who bested Chicago in their first game, 14-6. This got Jersey into the finals.  On the other side of the bracket, Los Angeles, the defending champions, beat Manhattan and Boston, putting up some big numbers along the way to reach the finals.

It was New Jersey versus Los Angeles. Everyone was excited for this final between two powerhouse teams. This, however, was a Los Angeles day. Their defense was very good and their batting…they put on a show. Eddie Hovannisian blasted two massive homers over the 15-foot fence in left field to lead the way. Everyone hit and played well.  They jumped out to a huge lead over Jersey. It looked like there might be an early departure due to the mercy rule in the version of softball played here. But, really, we are talking about New Jersey. They are tough and scrappy and not about to go out that way. They made a gritty run, but in the end still lost to a very good Los Angeles team.

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After the game, they shook hands, hugged and took a group photo of both teams celebrating the competition and the fraternal spirit of the AYF. This is why softball has completely transformed Saturdays at the AYF Olympics into something special.

While the Softball tournament was in the semi-finals, a group of athletes left the softball to go to Notre Dame High School for the javelin competition. This field event is normally held on Sundays at the track and field competition. In Illinois, javelin is not a high school sport due to the liabilities involved in throwing, well, spears. Javelin is not allowed at the track and field venue. Governing Body member Daron Topouzian worked very hard with the Chicago committee to find a venue for this long-standing field event. They found Notre Dame High School and, as has been the norm for this Chicago Olympics, it was three miles away from the softball fields. The competition was exciting to watch with both seasoned competitors and others who were throwing the javelin for the first time ever in this competition. That mix of experience and talent is a hallmark of the AYF Olympics where participation and fraternal spirit are as important as winning. The final results were not available for this article but will be in the Armenian Weekly AYF Olympic Special Issue that will come out later in September.

Next on the agenda? Harout. He did not disappoint. He never disappoints. Harout is full of energy as is his band. That energy transfers to the crowd full of his adoring fans who filled the dance floor… all night long. Harout was all over the stage. He was on the dance floor dancing and singing amid all the attendees. Even Vahe Berberian was there enjoying the energy! Harout is now a regular at the AYF Olympics and is part of the long tradition of this 86 year-old event that is so special to us all.

It was a great Saturday at the 86th Annual AYF Olympics. Looking forward to the track and field and the Olympic Ball on Sunday!

Mark Gavoor
Mark Gavoor is Associate Professor of Operations Management in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University in Chicago. He is an avid blogger and oud player.

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