Bob Tutunjian: AYF Olympic Historian and Then Some

This tribute to Bob Tutunjian, as well as other articles penned by special guests, was published in the September 5 Special Edition of the Armenian Weekly honoring the AYF Olympics.

As you can see, this Olympics issue is unique. Through the effort of many and the day-to-day support of the Armenian Weekly staff, we salute the Olympics with a look at its history, bridging to next year in the city where “it all began”: Worcester.

“We look forward to welcoming everyone…”, stated Gary Arvanigian, a longtime active AYF alumnus who co-chaired this year’s Olympic committee which has everything in place for Worcester 2021. “This doubles our energy to host a super Olympics next year,” he added.

Central to this Olympics issue is the vast amount of historical data about the Games. Simply, we pay tribute to those who brought us to today and helped build the energy the Olympics give us.

Bob Tutunjian, patriarch of a truly AYF family, is the source for Olympic information going back to the start. He is the unquestioned AYF Olympic historian and statistician. When asked to put together an All Olympic team, he expanded on the suggestion and decided to do it by decade. He worked all summer on this and did a phenomenal job.

To tell “Tut” ‘job well done’ is an understatement.

Bob has done an incredible job chronicling the AYF Olympics over the years. His contributions at each Olympics have always been superb. He has always been there, working behind the scenes as an official at the swimming events, helping with the official scoring software and whatever else needs doing. “I have followed the Olympics each year and marvel at the long and rich history of the Games and its meaning to the AYF family,” said Tutunjian, who says he was motivated by former Weekly editor Jimmy Tashjian to get involved in the annual events.

Eventually, Bob started writing articles and became part of a team with Mark Gavoor and Harry Derderian—encouraged by Tom Vartabedian in a hand-off—to pen the many weekend activities in a special issue.

The Tutunjian Family

The Tutunjian family has been an integral part of the Olympics for many years. Bob was a leader in the Boston AYF and ultimately coached the Siamantos as well as the Green Machine Varantians. His wife Shooshan (Kassabian) was an incredible athlete, holding the 800-meter record for more than 30 years, as well as holding marks in javelin, 200, shot put and two-mile run. She participated in 12 different events and is in the top 10 in women’s scoring. Their daughter Lynne is second all-time girl’s scorer with 153 points, was high scorer seven times and still holds records in the 25 freestyle and 50 breaststroke. Lynne placed first in a 200-meter and all other points have come from swimming.

Their son Stephen, a Lehigh University track standout as MVP and captain, is sixth in all-time men’s scoring with 130 points and broke a 52 year-old long jump record held by Leo Derderian. He participated in the Olympics nine times and was high scorer seven times. By the way, he also participated in NCAA championships.

Daughter Christine, captain of the Worcester Academy cross country and track teams, was high scorer twice with medals in both swimming and distance events. And, as Tom Vartabedian once stated:  “…Chris set the tone for Lynne and Stephen…a hardworking athlete…”

Bob Tutunjian feels a great deal of pride in his Olympic dedication. Well he should, but let’s look at one more point. As a family, the Tutunjians have a total of 452.5 points—the most of any family in AYF Olympic history. The Tutunjians, starting with Bob and Shoo: a lifelong AYF love affair.

We asked several coaches, teammates and friends of Bob to comment on his contributions to the AYF and the AYF Olympics. Following are their responses:

Steve Elmasian: Coach Bob Tutunjian, a leader by example, possessed endless energy when it came to putting the best team possible on the fields of play. He leaves no stone unturned. He coined the phrase, “Every Point Matters” in Providence. He is a master of his art, one of a kind. 

Ara Krafian: I consider Bobby my friend. When we are in the heat of competition, he is a little tough to take, because he is as competitive as anyone you will ever meet. With a supercomputer for a brain, he is calculating possibilities and outcomes on the fly, while most of us are caught up in the excitement of the moment. Over the years, I’ve come to know the person behind the conniving reputation, and he is a generous soul. Bobby is a fan of Armenian athletes. He is the perfect person to be our historian. Outside of our Armenian circles, I have run into Bobby at dual meets, league meets, state meets and college championships. He roots for every Armenian competitor. During the past 35 years, I have been dragged into runnign more AYF, AYF Junior and Homenetmen meets than I care to remember; Bobby has always been my first and easiest call. He runs the swim meet and helps at the track, always prepared, on time, professional and kind-hearted. We know the competitive Bobby at Senior Olympics, where it’s appropriate. Believe me, he has turned a blind eye to more violations and fouls for our kids than you can imagine. He does it because he knows it won’t change the outcome, but it will change the experience for that young person and hopefully brings them back to compete another day. He does all these things without any expectation of recognition as we know from his years of writing articles for the AYF Olympics issues. I believe he does these things because he has found a way to combine two of his greatest loves – athletic competition and fellow Armenians.

Rich Sarajian: As competitive as Bob is, he always has time to help athletes no matter what chapter they are from.

Bob even weighed in by providing a history of his involvement with the AYF Olympics and establishing himself as its historian and statistician.

I first became interested in the history of the Olympics during my first year on the AYF Central Executive in 1970. That year I served as head of the Central Athletic Council; our meetings were at the old Hairenik Building on Stuart Street in downtown Boston. After our first meeting, Jimmy Tashjian told me that part of my responsibility was to update the career scoring list for the Olympics. So, one Saturday morning, I met with him to go over the records and how the lists were maintained. Keep in mind that this was before personal computers and spreadsheets. While reviewing the women’s list, Jimmy mentioned that the leading scorer at that time, Sue Merian, had retired undefeated during her six-year career. After some quick mental math, I pointed out to him that Sue had 95 points on the list and, if she scored the maximum of 15 points per year, that would add up to 90 points. Jimmy paused and then said he wasn’t sure how that could be but it was my job now to figure that out. Then he introduced me to the archives where all the old copies of the Armenian Weekly were stored. He suggested I look through them for the years that Sue competed and check her point total. I spent the next few Saturdays dusting off those old bound copies, reading Olympics articles from the 1950s. I figured out that in 1957, when swimming events were added for the first time, Sue won the one women’s swimming event as well as her usual long jump, 50 and 100-yard dash events. But the writeup for her High Scorer award indicated that she scored 15 points (not 20) so evidently the swimming events were not counted that year for points. But apparently the extra five points were added to her career point total. After I reported this to Jimmy, he said it would be all right to correct her total to 90 points.

That initial project sparked my interest in the rich history of the Olympics. I spent many Saturdays just reading old Weekly issues and learning the deeds of AYFers who participated in those earlier years. As a trivia buff, specializing in AYF Olympics facts definitely piqued my interest.

My interest in Olympics history developed further in the late 1970s. Rich Chebookjian and I were trying to build membership within the Boston Siamanto chapter in a manner that many would call “recruiting for Olympics.” Incidentally, Rich was the first member that I “recruited for Olympics” in 1970 and I take pride in saying that I was involved in that process. In any case, in 1977, Tom Vartabedian published the first true special edition of the Weekly. As the special edition expanded in the following years, Tom would ask me and others for quotes and other information. I called Tom a close friend, and I miss him greatly, especially this time of year. But he did have a tendency to take liberties with facts and quotes. When I questioned him, he would just say that “it sounded better” the way he reported it. But eventually I wore him down, and we reached an understanding that he would ask me to clarify facts before going to print. If I didn’t know the answer to his question, I could find out fairly quickly by looking through my personal archive of ad books and old editions of the Weekly.

Eventually I transitioned to writing articles for the special edition to my current role as a member of this team since 2013. But I still act as the historian for our group, looking up facts when Mark or Harry have questions. In 2016, I took responsibility for maintaining the written history and the historical statistics for the Olympics after the unfortunate passing of Mark Alashaian. That information is now kept in spreadsheets and Word docs, a far cry from my project 46 years earlier.

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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.
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Harry Derderian

Harry Derderian is a native of Indian Orchard, Mass and resident of Farmington Hills, Mich. He is a member of the Marketing faculty at Eastern Michigan University as well as adjunct professor of marketing at University of Michigan-Dearborn and adjunct Professor of Business at Schoolcraft Community College.
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