CLINTON, Mass. — Across the street from the softball fields on Saturday afternoon at Clinton High School, about a dozen basketball teams powered by AYF athletes assembled for a three-on-three tournament.
Fans trickled in and out of the gymnasium throughout the course of the afternoon for the single elimination, half-court event, which seems to have evidently dipped in popularity after the 2021 AYF Olympics held in Providence.
Since there were only two teams on the women’s side, there was only one game to be played: the championship. Dressed in their maroon-colored “Ring the Bell” tee-shirts, returning champions from the Philadelphia “Sebouh” Chapter—sisters Victoria and Rebecca Selverian and Ani Dardarian—were ready to defend their title with some new additions—fellow “Sebouh” member Ava Zanaras and Lila Paul from the neighboring DC “Ani” Chapter. Their opponents were also a mixed team of AYF members with Knar Alashaian and Theresa Jelalian from the New Jersey “Arsen” Chapter and Karoun Tcholakian and Knar Topouzian from Detroit’s “Kopernick Tandourjian” (DKT) Chapter.
In the bleachers, there was a small, but spirited fan club from the Garden State for Jelalian. Arev Dinkjian and her nephew Alessio Aynilian chanted “Go THE-RE-SA!” for the 27 year old whose pair of baskets from behind the arc gave her team an early lead.
On the opposite side of the court with a lunch plate of beef kebab in their laps were twins and DKT members Sasoun and Mher Tcholakian. “Thank you for the coaching,” said Karoun to her younger brother Mher after completing a layup, helping her team inch closer to the 21 points needed to win it all.
The Philadelphia/DC team made a strong bid for the championship. Late in the game, a screen set up by Victoria Selverian paved the way for Zanaras’ bank shot from far away. But it wasn’t enough to lock in a back-to-back win.
“That was wild,” Jelalian said to Alashaian after their win.
In their brief post-game interview, the young women shared how, despite the distance, they all still grew up together because of their parents’ enduring ties to the AYF and its family of organizations.
On the men’s side, enthusiastic fans from Philadelphia showed up to watch the Keshgegians in action: Anto (a former Division 1 basketball player) and his equally athletic older brother Aram. The duo were backed up by Garno Khararjian’s scrappy defense and the addition of first time AYF Olympics athlete Vahe Minasian in a victorious semi-final match against a mixed team including Vicken Matiossian (Greater Boston “Nejdeh”), Aram Messerlian (Montebello-Western US), Aren Dakessian and Zareh Kaloustian (Manhattan “Moush”).
“It’s a tough loss, but they’re really good players,” said Kaloustian. “We had a lot of fun. That’s what’s important.”
Philadelphia was expected to face off against a young Greater Boston “Nejdeh” team after its win against the host chapter Worcester “Aram.” But, Philly was compelled to forfeit as their players were in the middle of a quarter-final softball game.
“I wish we had the chance to play them,” said Alex Hananian, a relatively new member of the AYF Greater Boston “Nejdeh” Chapter. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to play them next year and see them again in the finals.”