AYF Juniors compete, connect at Winter Olympics

Junior and senior attendees of the 2023 Mid-Atlantic/New England JWO (Photo: Grace Ezilioglu)

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. and GLENVIEW, Ill.— Over 150 junior and senior members of the Armenian Youth Federation-Youth Organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (AYF-YOARF) Eastern Region participated in the annual Junior Winter Olympics (JWO) this past weekend.

The Midwest JWO was hosted by the AYF Chicago “Ararat” Chapter, while the Philadelphia “Sebouh” Chapter hosted members from the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions. The event was organized by the Central Athletic Council, with additional help from the Central Junior Council and local community members and organizations.

Juniors pondering their next chess move (Photo: Grace Ezilioglu)

In Philadelphia, AYF members arrived Friday evening at St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Church. The following morning, the AYF members enjoyed a bagel breakfast and then boarded the bus to Armenian Sisters Academy (ASA) in Radnor. Juniors from a total of nine different chapters arrived excited to participate in the tournaments, including basketball, chess, checkers and backgammon. Parents, family members and AYF seniors cheered the juniors on throughout the day.

Older boys championship basketball game (Photo: Grace Ezilioglu)

On the basketball court, there were three separate brackets: younger boys, older boys and combined younger/older girls. The host chapter Philadelphia “Sebouhs” swept the boys’ tournaments, while the New Jersey “Arsen” girls dominated the competition. Meanwhile, in the ASA cafeteria, Juniors of all ages played against one another in each board game tournament.

Anto Keshgegian of Philadelphia brings together juniors from Philadelphia, Providence and Washington, DC for a huddle before their game (Photo: Grace Ezilioglu)

A delicious, lahmajun lunch was prepared by the mothers of Philadelphia AYF junior members which kept the juniors’ energy high throughout the day. The Ayanian family of Mediterranean Foods graciously donated the lahmajun for the attendees.

On Saturday night, AYF members returned to St. Gregory’s where local parents once again prepared a classic Philadelphia meal for dinner: Philly cheesesteaks. After dinner, juniors enjoyed an intense game of musical chairs before the award ceremony.

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The following champions were announced during the awards ceremony:

  • Chess: Haig Penenian, Washington DC “Sevan” Chapter
  • Checkers: Zaven Kouchakdjian, Middlesex County West “Musa Ler” Chapter
  • Backgammon: Alex Dardarian, Philadelphia “Sebouh” Chapter
  • Combined Girls Basketball: New Jersey “Arsen” Chapter
  • Younger Boys Basketball: Philadelphia “Sebouh” Chapter
  • Older Boys Basketball: Philadelphia “Sebouh” Chapter

These are the final standings of the 2023 Mid-Atlantic/New England Junior Winter Olympics:

Chapter Points
Philadelphia 24
New Jersey 14
Washington, DC 8
Worcester 5
Middlesex County West 5
Providence 3
New York 1
Greater Boston 1
North Andover 1


2023 JWO victors Philadelphia “Sebouhs” (Photo: Grace Ezilioglu)

All AYF members along with the alumni volunteers danced through the night to traditional Armenian dances, including the pampouri, haleh and tamzara.

“My favorite part of JWO was competing against other Armenians from different states,” said Araz Balian, a member of the Philadelphia “Sebouh” Chapter who described his first time at JWO as “memorable.”

Fellow “Sebouh” Chapter member Cameron Santerian stated, “I thought JWO was so much fun because I got to see my friends from out of state, as well as compete for my chapter. My favorite part was the sports and the fact that Philly won! I met so many new people and am so excited to see them at the next event!”

Meanwhile, in Chicago, 30 AYF juniors and seniors from the Midwest region arrived at Armenian All Saints Apostolic Church and Community Center on Saturday morning for a day full of games and activities. 

The juniors began with a few rounds of bowling at a local bowling alley. After lunch, everyone participated in a few games of laser tag and spent some time at the arcades before everyone returned to the community center. Members enjoyed snacks and played more games, like chess and three on three basketball. The AYF members also played ‘steal the bacon’ and musical chairs before returning home.

Attendees of the 2023 Midwest Junior Winter Olympics at the bowling alley

AYF juniors are looking ahead to Memorial Day weekend and preparing for Junior Seminar in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.

Founded in 1933, The Armenian Youth Federation is an international, non-profit, youth organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF). The AYF-YOARF Eastern United States stands on five pillars that guide its central activities and initiatives: Educational, Hai Tahd, Social, Athletic and Cultural. The AYF also promotes a fraternal attitude of respect for ideas and individuals amongst its membership. Unity and cooperation are essential traits that allow members of the organization to work together to realize the AYF’s objectives.

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