A Providence “Varantian” Alumnus Perspective

Another Labor Day weekend is in the history books. The huge AYF Olympic trophy that sat in Fermanian Fellowship Hall at Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church in Providence, RI will now sit in a similar hall in Watertown as the Greater Boston “Nejdeh” Chapter captured first place with 166 points followed by Detroit and Providence with 143 and 130 points, respectively.

Providence AYF Chapter dance (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

The traditional “Hey Djan” was played as the Varantians and alumni formed two huge circles in the packed hall of the DCU Center in Worcester.

Four new records were broken as these AYF Olympic Games continue to trend in a positive direction with the number of athletes and crowds that are fueling hope and promise that this weekend will continue to rank as the greatest Armenian gathering in the eastern region of the US for decades to come.

Our Providence “Varantian” team had been practicing for nine weeks, preparing to defend our title from last year. Thirty-eight members competed, carrying on a tradition that goes back close to the 90 years.

Alumni and chapter members showed up in force at church for the annual pep rally on August 31. The delicious food was catered by Sonia’s Deli of Cranston, RI. A video of past AYF Olympics and awards dinners was presented. Many alumni spoke, encouraging the members to do their best while representing the Providence community.

We’re always looking for new members: juniors (10-16) and seniors (16-26). Email providence@ayf.org.

Friday morning got us off to a great start in men’s tennis. There were 12 entries, and by midday, there were just four left, all from Providence. One was quoted as saying, “This is awesome. No matter what happens, we take all four spots.” 

We had some entries in men’s and women’s golf and took fourth place.

Friday was a coming-out party in the pool with three swimmers who made a major impact individually and in the relays. Our swim team helped us earn so many gold and silver medals we lost count, and a record was established in the 200 medley relay by our Providence team.

Under a sunny blue sky, the Providence Varantians took the field early Saturday morning and didn’t leave until nearly sunset. They left in their path the Manhattan, Boston, Philadelphia and Detroit chapter teams.

There were 15 teams in this year’s tournament, and we were seeded seventh following an early exit last year to Detroit, who went on to win the title.

Providence and Greater Boston shaking hands after the game (Photo: Rich Kanarian)

Boston provided a tough challenge midday, but we were able to sneak by with an 8-5 win. We took an early 4-1 lead over Detroit in the championship game and stretched it out to 15-5 before the defending champs roared back with their imposing lineup. But we also possessed a lineup that brought back memories of years ago when we were at our best.

Hagop Taraksian and Nareg Mkrtschjan celebrate their team’s softball win (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

The softball tournament has grown in epic proportions. The fields were perfect. The crowd was enormous. There was live Armenian music and delicious Armenian food prepared by the Whitinsville church community.

This is the first time the Worcester Chapter has hosted an AYF Olympics in close to five decades, and one would think they have been hosting them all along.

AYF Olympics is a grueling weekend that requires committed members to do whatever is asked of them to scratch out a point here and there for the team, and from one of the coach’s perspectives, those who chose to compete were all in. A few runners were injured running the 200 meter dash just as they finished first and second, so others had to step up and take their places in the final relays. Stories like this are endless. 

Steve Elmasian, Steve Mesrobian and Nareg Mkrtschjan (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

As I was leaving the hotel at around 2 a.m., I bumped into Gil Markarian, a Providence alumnus who now lives in Houston, and he congratulated us for all of our accomplishments. I realized that placing first in the softball tournament with a solid third place overall was something that we should all be very proud of.

Providence is just a fraction of the size of the Armenian communities in Boston and Detroit. There is nothing we can do about that, but that will never stop us from representing our community with our goal to place first no matter what we are up against.

We had members who had already moved into college quarters in places like Rutgers and Purdue University, yet they and their 36 other teammates were there for each other from the start of the golf and tennis tournaments on Friday morning to the swim meet that night to a softball tournament that took all day on Saturday before the last out was recorded to another long day at the track and field on Sunday.

An AYF alumni booster club will be formed to nurture and support our “Varantians.”

Our AYF Juniors remain our main focus so that they learn the meaning of their membership at a young age and their transition to a senior is seamless.

What we have here, almost nine decades in the making, is pretty impressive. Mal Varadian always said, “Make it better than it was,” and that’s always the plan.

The AYF Olympics are in Washington, DC next year. Plans are to bring that AYF Olympic trophy back to Fermanian Fellowship Hall as we try to win for the 42nd time in the 89 years these games have taken place.

Bring your children to our doors. We will make them better Armenians and future leaders in this community even with all the other commitments they have on their schedules. The requirements to become an AYF member do not ask too much. It’s up to you to help us make the Providence “Varantian” Chapter even better than it is. Don’t assume they are too busy with school and other activities. We have several members who are joining their school track and field teams and other programs like golf, so they can be even better prepared next year.

You may have noticed that no names of athletes were mentioned. That’s because they’re all valuable regardless of their athleticism. We are proud of each of our members who participated, and the same goes for all AYF members who made this weekend a memorable one.

Congratulations to the Greater Boston “Nejdeh” Chapter for placing first, the Detroit “Kopernick Tandourjian” Chapter that edged our team out for second and all the teams and their member athletes. From the high scorers and record breakers to the scholarship winners and Ernest Nahigian and Cory Tosoian award winners; from the Whitinsville church for their concession efforts and the three-on-three basketball champs to the Worcester AYF and alumni and the AYF Central Executive for making this one of the greatest AYF Olympic Games in recent memory.

We hope to see you at the V-Ball in January where you will hear more about what the Providence “Varantian” Chapter accomplishes throughout the year. They’re Camp Haiastan counselors; they serve on the church altar; they are on AYF Central Councils; one is the chairman of the AYF Central Executive, and so much more.

Stephen Elmasian

Stephen Elmasian

Stephen Elmasian is the co-chair of ANC-RI. He recently retired as the fiscal manager for the RI Secretary of State.

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