By Revekka Papadopoulou
Memorial Day weekend is traditionally a busy weekend for more than 1,100 young athletes from the Archdiocesan District Parishes as they participate in their annual Junior Olympics at the Stony Brook University Campus. Representing more than 20 parishes, young boys and girls enter over 120 events, competing not only for a gold, a silver or a bronze medal; but also for the ideals of their Greek-Orthodox heritage.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Games. Since its establishment in 1979, the program has proven to become a vital instrument of guidance, knowledge, sportsmanship and unity for the youth and families of the Greek Orthodox communities from the Archdiocesan District.
“The Olympics are open to all boys and girls from age 7-18 who qualify for their parish olympic team”, notes chairman Alex Constantinou. There is a J.O.Y division for children 7 – 12 years old and a G.O.Y.A. division for those who are 13 – 18 years old. The Games include soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball, swimming, track-n-field events, board games, nok-hockey and tennis.
The preparations for the Olympics start usually at the end of August and early September. The 12-member Executive Committee holds meetings with local GOYA and JOY advisors throughout the year in preperation for the event. “Each year the first mailing, advertising the olympic program, goes out to every of the nearly 65 parishes in the Archdiocesan District”, Constantinou says. “We generally get 20 – 24 parishes and approximately 1,050 children”.
More than 1,100 kids from 21 parishes participated in the 2002 Olympics. Less than 1,000 athletes from 20 parishes were present in the 2000 Games, 1,031 athletes from 21 communities in 1999, 1,010 athletes from 20 parishes in 1998.
Mr. Constantinou talks about a stability that is the key factor to the program’s success at the local level. “10- 15 years ago, the thought was to have the J.O.Y. compete on a separate weekend. Since then, we have become more efficient, better organized and have more events (non-athletic as well) and thus have more participants. We also are seeing more parishes with the same advisors year after year”, he adds.
Regarding the importance of such a program, he points to the friendships that have been made by the athletes themselves as well as the youth organizations. “New friends and new programs are realized, there’s the excitement and experience of competing against so many. This is a big deal to most of our children, so we do our best to give them something they’ll never forget”, he stresses.
And what about the funds? How is this great program funded?
“Each parish and competitor is charged a fee”, Mr. Constantinou notes “We also enlist individuals and corporations for donations, while some donate money for a particular item, everyone’s contribution, however it may be, ensures the success of this program”.
This year in particular, due to the 25th year anniversary and through the many contributions the program has received, each and every competitor is receiving a sports-bag, shirt, towel, water-bottle, lanyard, a pin, a camera with an album and a specially made commemorative medal.
Talking about the future plans, the Archdiocesan District Olympics chairman stresses the need for more parishes to participate in the Olympics. “We are always looking to upgrade in whatever way we can. Foremost, we would like to see more parishes participating, not just in our district but throughout the country”, he says. “There has been talk of a national competition, but….”, he adds.
Even though the event is well organized as its 25 year history shows, the problem remains on how to increase community participation and recruit young athletes from each of our communities. It is a surprisingly small number compared to the nearly 65 parishes in the Greater Archdiocesan district.
In the spring of 1978, the Youth Office of the Archdiocese expressed a desire to expand the district’s athletic program beyond basketball, and bring to the Metropolitan area a Junior Olympics program. One year later, Archbishop Iakovos gave His blessings to the idea and a committee consisting of both clergy and laity was formed, with two initial tasks at hand. They had to persuade the local parishes to participate and to find a facility that could accommodate such a program.
Fr. Kosmas Karavellas, the then Director of the Youth Office, headed the effort to see this program, his vision, to fruition. Along Fr. Kosmas, was Alex Constantinou, chairman for the entire 25 years of this program and executive board member Demetrios Pamboukes. The three of them were Physical Education instrustors in the Archdiocesan school system.
The Inaugural Junior Olympics were held at Queens College in the spring of that year, with eighteen parishes patricipating. The GOYAN athletes in volleyball, swimming, soccer and track and field. The J.O.Y athletes in track and field only.
Enthousiasm and interest were always strong, bringing more communities and more kids to the Junior Olympics every year. Same events, but different sites in order to find the most suitable facility for the event’s growing needs that had been spread over a two-day period.
A new Olympic Executive Committee comprised of ten individuals with Alex Constantinou as Chairman, was organized by His Grace Bishop Alexios (now Metropolitan of Atlanta) in 1990. The committee had to set formal guidelines; to solve the “site” problems; to increase participation; and to raise funds.
This will be the 19th year that the Junior Olympics will be held at the Stony Brook University campus. The site has all the required facilities including an arena where track and field events could be in rain or shine.
The Executive Committee
With the challenging task at hand of getting everything together, organizing every Memorial weekend as an event that would be unforgettable, the 11-member olympic executive committee never stops throughout the year to think and work for the two-day Games. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios is the Honorary Chairman, Alex Constantinou is the Chairman of the Olympics and George Hazlaris, Archdiocese Youth Director. Members include Demi Brountzas, James N. Hartofilis, Cynthia Herzegovitch, Demetris Pamboukes, Niki Panagiotakis, Irene Papazicos, Helen Polichronakis, Ernie Pourakis and Gary Sideris. With input from the parish advisors and various sports officials, they formulate and enforce the rules and regulations of each event as well as behavior guidelines. Then there is the printing of said rules, the registration of the competitors; the printing of the journal; the assignment of officials and volunteers; designing and ordering of medals and souvenirs; ordering the food and beverages for the awards banquet; setting up the ballfields and courts; awarding of medals; arranging the opening ceremony…