Young Athletes Make AGBU History at the 19th World Games in Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES — In its almost 60-year history, the AGBU World Games has brought international youth to various global cities with the goal of reinforcing their commitment to the organization and lifelong friendships with peers, through good sportsmanship and teamwork. This July, more than 500 young athletes from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, France, Uruguay and the US gathered in Los Angeles. There, for one week that began on Saturday, July 28, they engaged in sports competitions, social events and excursions, all made possible by the AGBU 2012 World Games Committee and a network of more than 200 volunteers who had been working on the plans for nearly a year.

The countdown for the AGBU World Games had been ongoing for months. While the march- ing band, the majority of them AGBU Scouts, began to circle the track of the Pasadena City College Stadium on July 29, the bleachers filled with an excited crowd. They soon put their hands together for the members of the Vartan and Siranush Gevorkyan Academy who per- formed on the field, the local John Muir High School drummer group and the procession of AGBU athletes that followed, waving their respective flags proudly. The guests’ attention was then turned to the welcoming remarks delivered by AGBU Vice President Sinan Sinanian, World Games Chairman Shahe Seuylemezian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, and veteran AYA athlete Hratch Manoukian, who made the sportsmanship pledge.

Among the spectators were a host of dignitaries and representatives, including Armenia’s Consul General to Los Angeles, Grigor Hovhannisyan; Glendale Mayor Frank Quintero; Glendale Councilmen Rafi Manoukian and Ara Najarian; former Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian; minister with the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America (AEUNA), Rev. Joseph D. Matossian;

Police Chief of Pasadena Phillip L Sanchez; clergymen representing the Western Prelacy and Western Diocese and the Armenian Catholic Church; and official leaders and representatives from the major Armenian political parties.

The entertainment portion of the night then got underway, as David Foster, the 16-time Grammy-award winning musician who has helped produce some of the world’s most successful artists, including Madonna, Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion, took the stage. The popular group Element Band and singer Hovhannes Shahbazyan also performed. Foster even invited a few members of the audience on stage to sing along with them, while across the stadium everyone rose to their feet to dance. Off to a festive start, the athletes returned to the Universal City Hilton Hotel, where they stayed throughout the week, ready to carry their energy onto the field the following day.

Throughout the week, youth displayed their talents and skills in an array of team and individual sports. Competitions included basketball, chess, futsal, swimming, table tennis, tennis, track and field, and volleyball, all of which drew hundreds of enthusiastic spectators. A buzz of excitement filled the air at each of the matches’ venues, the AGBU Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Center and High School, the AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School and the Pasadena Public High School, with fans continuously shouting encouraging words and cheers. As they progressed from the preliminary games to the finals rounds, the players always demonstrated good sportsmanship and support for one another, ensuring that the games were more fun than competitive. As coach Kev Dertadian of Sydney, Australia commented, “Year round, we watch the players on our teams learn and grow, and it’s been a huge thrill to watch them apply all the skills they’ve developed back at home here at the World Games with their global peers.” The youth shared that enthusiasm, and the athlete Josephine Sayegh of Montevideo stated, “This week has been incredible. It’s so amazing to be surrounded by so many young Armenians like myself from around the world who love the same sports I do — I already can’t wait to reunite in a new city in 2016.”

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Day in and day out, the World Games attendees were on the fields or in the stands, but in the evening they had the opportunity to relax and enjoy many planned social and cultural events. On Saturday, July 28, all athletes and guests gathered at the AGBU Pasadena Center for a “Meet and Greet,” where they caught up with old friends and sparked conversation with new ones. On Tuesday night, a summer soiree organized by the Young Professional of Los Angeles (YPLA) brought together AGBU World Games athletes with their local YP counter- parts to the rooftop of the Sheraton Universal Hotel, where they enjoyed views of the Hollywood Hills and Universal Studios.

Halfway through the week, participants were ready for some fun in the sun and on Wednesday, they got just that with a private party on Huntington Beach, which was organized by the AGBU World Games Committee and managed by the women within the World Games Special Events Committee. When they weren’t cooling off in the Pacific Ocean, guests were at the beach volleyball court for a friendly co-ed game. When the weekend approached, everyone was invited to view an encore performance of the AGBU Ardavazt Theater Company’s hit comedy, “Ser Yev Dzidzagh” (“Love & Laughter”) at the AGBU Pasadena Center. For over three decades, the theatrical ensemble’s productions have drawn critical acclaim, and their show on Friday night was no exception.

As they watched the Games unfold, each of the athletes knew that they were part not only of a series of events spanning that week, but of a great, long-standing AGBU tradition six decades in the making. A special collection of photos and keepsakes from World Games past, put together by the youth group AGBU Impact, was unveiled on the evening of the “Meet and Greet” and remained on exhibit at the AGBU Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Center’s Boyajian Hall over the next few days. Young athletes admired old team banners and jerseys, spotting their parents and even grandparents in the black and white photographs that filled the display. World Games Chairman Shahe Seuylemezian reflected on the tremendous preparation that went into both the collection and all the World Games’ activities, stating, “The workload was immense and not without its share of difficulties and hurdles. However, the initiative that came from all the volunteers who eagerly reached out to lend us a hand was key. For without their dedication, tenacity and allegiance, the success we had could simply not have been achieved.”

For the volunteers, the World Games were a labor of love. As volunteer Carine Imasdounian remarked, “We knew since the Volunteer kick- off event in April that we were committing to a project that was larger than life, but incredibly worthwhile. I have so enjoyed being part of such a passionate and devoted team. Watching the Games unfold over the past few months until this week has been very rewarding. As volunteers, a huge number of us spent countless hours at this week’s different events, and I only wish we could have spent countless more.”

After the final games wrapped up on the afternoon of Saturday, August 4, the athletes were ready to change out of their AGBU uni- forms and into more formal attire for that evening’s Victory Ball. At 6 p.m. on the dot, more than 1,700 guests began streaming into the Universal Studios Backlot. It was on the Studios’ legendary “New York Avenue” set that they were greeted by the Special Events Committee chairwoman, Aline Patatian, who delivered the opening remarks. The microphone was then passed to London-based entertainer Kev Orkian, and later singers Armenchik and Joseph Krikorian and members of the Vartan and Siranush Gevorkyan Dance Academy, whose performances inspired everyone to stay on the dance floor well into the night.

Those present at the Victory Ball included AGBU Vice President Sinan Sinanian, AGBU Western District Committee Chairman Haig Messerlian, and Archbishop Hovnan Derderian. Sinanian was full of praise for the World Games’ athletes and the organizers as he statd, “I have never seen so many people, of all ages and from so many countries around the world, come together and have an unforgettably positive and impactful experience as they did here in Los Angeles during the AGBU World Games. An occasion such as this is truly an incredible and rare opportunity for our youth to gather and meet other Armenians from places such as Alexandria, Cairo, Montevideo, Montreal, Paris, Sao Paulo, Sydney and Toronto, and create special memories and life- long friendships. Everyone kept telling me they had the best week of their lives. I only wish we could have more occasions for our AGBU members to come together like this. I salute all the volunteers who have worked tirelessly to make these unparalleled AGBU World Games an enormous success.”

During the evening, Athletic Coordinator of the World Games, Jano Baghdanian invited for- mer AYA athletes to the stage to present the 1st place winners with their trophies. They were followed by former AGBU Southern California District Chairman Vahe Imasdounian, who handed the Sportsmanship Award to Toronto, as well as longtime athletics supporter Albert Boyajian, who presented the Friendship Award to Montevideo. The team leader of the Montevideo delegation, Jose Handalian, commented, “Every minute of this week’s World Games, I felt at home. It was a great pleasure, and a gratifying experience, for all of us from Uruguay to participate in the Games and meet the other delegations. This is a brilliant organization, a brilliant event, and most importantly, brilliant people who are behind the games.”

No one went home from the Games empty handed, and on Saturday, August 4, at the Trophy Ceremony in Pasadena High School, all the athletes received cups, medals and recognition for their participation in AGBU’s 19th World Games.

The words of AGBU Western District Committee Chairman Haig Messerlian captured the feelings of all participants at the ceremony, as they reflected on the week that had passed. He said, “The AGBU World Games 2012 in Los Angeles was an event that marked AGBU’s com- mitment to our youth, its power, popularity and prestige among the participants, our AGBU membership and the community in general, perfectly in line with AGBU’s slogan, “Unity is Strength.”

As the players and teams congratulated each other on the matches they had completed, they were already looking forward to the next time they would play together. With the next World Games scheduled for 2016, they still have time, but will no doubt keep in touch until then, not letting distance weaken the strong bonds that were formed both on and off the courts. The AGBU 2012 World Games World Games Committee included: Chairman Shahe Seuylemezian, Honorary Chairman Hratch Manoukian, Vice Chairman Hagop Sepetjian, Treasurer Hagop Jazmadarian, Recording Secretary and Volunteer Coordinator Aleen Khanjian, English Corresponding Secretary Aline K. Yeterian, Armenian Corresponding Secretary Kevork Keushkerian, Fundraising Committee Chairman Vahe Imasdounian, Sports Committee Chairman Jano Baghdanian, Special Events Committee Chairwoman Aline Patatian, Opening Ceremony Committee Chairwoman Sonia Babayan, Protocol Committee Chairwoman Hermie Janoyan, Security Committee Chairman Garo Babian, Facilities Manager Ara Manoukian, Registration Committee Chairwoman Cynthia Simonian, Information Technology Committee Chairman Jack Svadjian, Committee member at large Ara Yessaian, Committee member at large Bared Gosdanian, and Production Manager Stepan Partamian.