OAKLAND, Calif. — On Sunday, June 2, at St. Vartan Armenian Church, hundreds of former and current athletes gathered from near and far to honor Richard Demirjian for his decades of service. With Richard in attendance, the tribute luncheon was a great opportunity for former teammates and friends to reminisce about their fond memories all under the leadership and guidance of Demirjian.
For nearly six decades, Demirjian was the catalyst for participation throughout California by Armenian youth in athletic competition, including track and field, men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball, softball, tennis and soccer. The gathering provided an opportunity to show Richard how much he personally meant to everyone in the room and beyond.
In 1969, Demirjian, along with Ben Morjig, spearheaded the Western Armenian Athletic Association (WAAA) Games, which was first held in the San Francisco Bay Area and then in Fresno. The games ran for 46 years with thousands of talented Armenian athlete participants. Dermirjian was also instrumental in the St. Vartan Armenian Church athletic team’s participation in various tournaments throughout the Western Diocese.
The luncheon began with a surprise — 85-year-old Ed Baker ran into the church hall as a torch bearer. Olympic-themed music played in the background as Baker ran a lap around all the guest tables replicating the Opening Ceremonies during the WAAA Games. Baker ran for St. Vartan Armenian Church for more than three decades, and in 1979 set the record for the Master’s Mile, which still stands today.
Throughout the afternoon, many former athletes spoke with deep gratitude and appreciation for what Richard meant to them. Steven Donikian served as the event’s master of ceremonies and provided great commentary as a former athlete himself.
The first speaker was Jack Papazian, who, along with his brother George, were instrumental in encouraging Demirjian to start a basketball program and competition back in the 1960’s. Jack paid tribute to Richard and expressed how much of an impact he made on his life.