By Revekka Papadopoulou
More than 1,100 young athletes representing the JOY and GOYA organizations of 23 Greek Orthodox parishes from Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Westchester County, and Connecticut, participated in the 2003 Archdiocesan District Olympics, held on Memorial Day weekend at the State University of New York (SUNY), Stony Brook campus, on Long Island. GOYANS competed in 21 categories and JOY kids took part in 12 categories. This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Archdiocesan District Junior Olympics Games.
As is usually the case, almost half of the 23 parishes participating were from Long Island. The Annunciation Church in Stamford was Connecticut’s only representative, and the GOYA team of St. Sophia came all the way from Albany for the games. Three Hierarchs Church, one of Brooklyn’s four communities, participated in the games for the first time.
The three-day event, which began Friday, May 23, with the swimming competition, drew a crowd of nearly 2,500, including children, friends and family members. The opening ceremony, on Saturday, May 24, included a Marine Corps Color Guard from Amityville, the Northport Pipe and Drum Band, a youth choir formed from various parishes on Long Island, and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner by Chrisavgi Sourgoutsis, a former competitor in the games. Each of the JOY and GOYA teams entered the arena holding its chapter’s banner.
The highlight of the ceremony was the special presence of the Olympic torch, which this year was passed on for the first time to all the parishes that participated in the District Olympics. The torch originated at the Archdiocesan Chapel of St. Paul. The torch relay started at Blue Point on March 8, and ended at the Church of the Resurrection in Glen Cove, Long Island, the Sunday before the Olympics.
Archbishop Demetrios stated in a letter to all the participants, “The lighting of the torch does not simply represent the commencement of an athletic program. It is the very light that has joined us together as a family for 2000 years. It is the very light that has brought our world out of darkness and into the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” His Eminence, who wasn’t able to attend this year’s Olympics due to a church consecration in Oklahoma City, reminded everyone that “there are no winners or losers at these events. There are only those who are running the good race for Salvation, and the prize that awaits us all will be achieved through their love for one another and by their love for Our Lord and His Holy Church.”
Chairman Alex Constantinou welcomed all the participants and the audience, and stressed the importance of the program, which teaches the youth the fundamentals of our Orthodox faith and the ideals of our Hellenic heritage through sports competition. Rev. Deacon Constantine Lazarakis, Assistance Youth Director at the Archdiocese, blessed the Opening Ceremony.
The first day was full of JOY competitions. Beginning around 10 in the morning, the young athletes, ages 7-12, competed in board games, basketball shooting, softball throwing, standing broad jump, and track events. Volleyball matches got under way in mid-afternoon and ended later in the evening with two highly intense games for the gold medal.
In the GOYA boys’ category, Assumption Church, Port Jefferson, won over St. Demetrios, Merrick; in the girls’ competition, Annunciation Church, Stamford, won over Holy Trinity Church, Hicksville. In the outdoor events, Holy Trinity Church in Hicksville, won the gold medal over Jamaica in GOYA’s boys’ soccer competition, and St. Nicholas, Flushing, won over St. Paul’s, Hempstead in the girls’ event. Fr. Shon Govostis, of Archangel Michael in Roslyn, assisted in awarding medals to the winners, among which were young athletes from his church.
The last day, which always includes a Sunday Morning Divine Liturgy, was dedicated to two indoor events for ages 10-12, GOYA’s tennis competition, and JOY’s soccer competition. St. Paraskevi, Greenlawn, and St. Demetrios, Astoria, won gold medals over Archangel Michael, Roslyn, and Assumption Church, Port Jefferson, respectively.
Assumption Church, Port Jefferson, hosted the Awards Ceremony at the church community center, as it does every year. The ceremony was attended by over 400 hundred athletes and their coaches and youth advisors.
“Everything went very well,” said Chairman Alex Constantinou, who has been organizing the event for the past 25 years, when he began working alongside the founder of the District Junior Olympics, Fr. Kosmas Karavelas, in 1978. Over the years, he and his executive committee, Demi Broutzas, James N. Hartofilis, Demi Pamboukes, Nikie Panagiotakis, Irene Papazicos, Helen Polychronakis, Ernie Pourakis, and Gary Sideris, along with the New York Archdiocesan District Youth Director George Hazlaris, have put long hours and exhaustive efforts into this event. They begin organizing each Olympics early in the year by bringing representatives from the participating parishes of the district and Greek-American youngsters together for a weekend of joyful and friendly competition.
Deacon Constantine Lazarakis, who was present throughout the weekend and attended all the events, congratulated the young athletes for participating and competing in the spirit of Orthodox Christian love and fellowship.
“Let’s take these qualities that we used this weekend and become athletes for our lord, Jesus Christ,” he declared, talking not only to the kids but also to the older people in attendance.
Fr. George Matsis welcomed the attendees talking about the special meaning of such a program especially for the Greek-Orthodox youth, congratulated the participants–as all considered winners- and awarded medals. He also expressed his pride in his Church’s JOY and GOYA teams.
The Port Jefferson team, as well as the Blue Point, Hicksville, Roslyn, West Nyack, Greenlawn, Hempstead and Southampton teams won many gold, silver and bronze medals in GOYA events.
“These Games have a positive influence on the young participants,” noted Nick Kontoleon, St. John’s of Blue Point GOYA advisor. The Blue Point team with its 21 GOYA athletes won medals in most of the track-and-field events, but wasn’t so lucky in volleyball and softball.
“It is a time of reorganization for our team,” added Kontoleon, noting the importance of having and participating in this program, something positive for our Greek-Orthodox faith, our Hellenic heritage, and especially our Youth, our future.
Katerina Komboyiorgas from St. Paul Hempstead and Sophie Marneris from St. John’s Blue Point competed for the third place in girl’s high jump, an interesting game that received very good reviews. Katerina, 12, who has participated in the Games since she was 8 won the bronze medal, as well as the gold medal with the relay team and the silver medal winner with girl’s soccer.
“It was a nice competition,” she said, adding she was already thinking about next year’s Olympics in which her youngest brother will also take part. Liza Kompogiorgas, her mother, congratulated her not only for the medals but for taking part in such a good and important program for Greek-Orthodox youth “Every Memorial Day weekend they know that they will be here, dedicating it to the Church and the Olympics,” she said.
Participating in this year’s events were the following communities:
St. Sophia, Albany; St. Demetrios Cathedral, Astoria; St. John’s, Blue Point; Zoodochos Peghe, Bronx; Three Hierarchs, Brooklyn; Transfiguration, Corona; St. Nicholas, Flushing; Church of the Resurrection, Glen Cove; St. Paraskevi, Greenlawn; Cathedral of St. Paul, Hempstead; Holy Trinity, Hicksville; St. Demetrios, Jamaica; St. Demetrios, Merrick; Holy Trinity, New Rochelle; Church of the Assumption, Port Jefferson; Archangel Michael, Roslyn; Church of Our Saviour, Rye; Annunciation, Stamford CT; Kimisis Tis Theotokou, Southampton; Holy Trinity-St. Nicholas, Staten Island; St. Nicholas, West Babylon; SS Constantine & Helen, West Nyack; Prophet Elias, Yonkers.