AYF Olympics 2020: Filling the Void

Worcester captain Richie Tashjian holds Olympics torch high as Olympics Queen Lucy Oulohojian Almasian and King Armen Harootian look on (Photo from the September 12, 1974 issue of the Weekly)

Back in late April, we were in the midst of the pandemic, isolation, social distancing, and the cancelling or postponing of all kinds of events from weddings to church picnics. When I saw Kenar Charchaflian’s name on an incoming call, my heart sank a bit. I suspected she was calling to tell me that there would be no AYF Olympics this year. Sadly, that is why she was calling me. She wanted to let me know before it was officially announced on April 28. My heart sank even more.

As the lead of the team of five reporters and photographers that contribute to the annual Armenian Weekly AYF Olympic Special Issue insert, Kenar kindly wanted me to hear it directly from her.  

We were a bit sad on the phone. It was certainly the right decision but that didn’t make it a less bitter pill to swallow. We commiserated. Wow, it was just sinking in that for the first time since the founding of the AYF in 1933, 87 years, there would be no AYF Olympics. The Olympics are something we all look forward to.  It is part of our lives. I felt bad for the current AYF members. They would lose a precious year of participation and of simply being together and strengthening their friendships in those wonder years. I felt bad for all of us alumni and friends who renew our friendships, make new ones and take pride in watching our young people participate in the games.

No AYF Olympics? Say it ain’t so!

The sadness didn’t last the length of that phone call with Kenar. While chatting with her, I thought of the AYF and AYF Olympic stalwarts and icons of the past. I knew what my Olympic writing mentor, Tommy Vartabedian, and my father, Coach Sonny, would do. Their voices were in my head. They would be encouraging us and cheering us on to keep the AYF Olympic spirit soaring…especially this year. We need to pass the Olympic torch, if only figuratively. The path instantly became clear. We still need to do the AYF Olympics Special Issue insert in the Armenian Weekly.  

Kenar loved the idea. The Weekly’s assistant editor Leeza Arakelian loved the idea. We had a meeting with Weekly editor Pauline Getzoyan, and she loved the idea.  

So, here we are. This is the first in a series of weekly articles in The Armenian Weekly leading to a Special Issue that will be published on Labor Day weekend when we would have been in Worcester.

As there is no new Olympic news being made this year, we will be focusing on our rich past and immediate future. We look forward to the 87th annual games in Worcester in 2021 and will be providing insightful articles about the Worcester community, the Worcester Olympic Committee, and their plans for next year’s festivities.   

The Olympics are quite meaningful to many of us because of the place it holds in our hearts. It is the memories and impact of the people we have met and places where we met them. We have lifelong friends and even spouses because of the AYF and the AYF Olympics. We have Harry Derderian and Bob Tutunjian working on edits, updates and refinements of the AYF Olympic History. We have our ace photographers, Tamar Kanarian and Sona Gevorgian, providing their favorite photos. We are also exploring how to get the best of Tom Vartabedian’s stories and photos. We may even present an All Olympic team by decade.  

To do this we also need the help of everyone who loves the AYF and the AYF Olympics. We need your favorite Olympics photos and your special AYF memories. We want to publish the stories and photos in the online or print editions of The Weekly. We want to print them in the weeks leading up to Labor Day and in the Olympics Special Issue insert.

Here is how you can help:

  • Hunt for your favorite AYF and AYF Olympics photos. If they are not digital, scan them. Then, please email your photos to editor@armenianweekly.com with a caption for each photo that includes: year, place, names of the people in the photo, and why it is your favorite. We cannot use your photos without this information. We also cannot guarantee each and every photo will appear online or in the print edition either…but we want to use a lot of them!
  • Secondly, do you have a story or memory you want to share? We would love to have them. You can provide a short vignette or a long memory. Shy about writing it up? No problem, we are happy to help you and would be pleased to interview you. Some memories might be in an article of many other snippets. Some may be articles all to themselves. Again, just drop us an email at editor@armenianweekly.com, and we will be in touch.

Please join us in sustaining the AYF Olympic spirit in this unprecedented year.

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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.

1 Comment

  1. Reading this, my mind raced with close to 40 years of memories that hopefully remain as vivid as they have to this day. Looking forward to sharing my pictures and thoughts.

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