BY RAMELA GRIGORIAN ABBAMONTIAN
It’s been a few weeks since the Ferrahian Armens Varsity Girls basketball team earned its first-ever CIF-SS Division 5A championship title and I have found myself revisiting the moment quite frequently. This victory was profoundly meaningful for many of us. Personally, I’m reflecting upon it through the eyes of not just a former Armens athlete (Class of 1993) and a parent of current Armens athletes (Class of 2024, 2026, 2030), but also as a basketball player at the last championship game in 1992. This blended perspective has heightened my joy at this victory, deepened my admiration for Coach Varant, intensified my love for my alma mater, given renewed meaning to our motto, “Once an Armen, Always an Armen,” and strengthened my pride in my Armenian identity.
On what is now the historic day of March 5, hundreds of Ferrahian fans gathered in the Santa Ana gym ready for the championship game against the Faith Baptist Contenders. Generations of Armens supporters (even as young as 2 years old!) were enveloped into a sea of yellow as we proudly wore our bright T-shirts displaying “Armens Pride – est. 1969.” But we were not just fans sharing bleachers that day; we were family members gathered to support our own. Though not necessarily blood-related, those girls on the court became all of our sisters and daughters. As family-fans, we poured ourselves wholeheartedly into the game, cheering fervently and encouraging loudly. We recognized that our energy ignited the players on the court: they knew and felt that the sea of supporters in the stands believed in them with unparalleled faith.
Each minute of the game increased our heartrates as our eyes glanced from the court to the scoreboard and back to the court. Watching the game was thrilling: our Armens players skillfully displayed the harmonious interaction of their individual talents to create a formidable force unified on the court. As the 32 minutes wore on, our Armens family communally experienced myriad emotions – nervousness, tension, fear, anxiety, joy, concern, pride and then finally. . . the thrill of victory with a score of 51-44.
Since then, I have relived the moment through the eyes of a former Armens athlete and have vividly recalled the last championship game in 1992 against Pasadena Poly when I was a junior on the team. We played our very best yet, admittedly, the other team was better, stronger, and faster than we were and they earned the title of champions. But even in the bitter moment of defeat, I still remember our Coach and the Armens family embracing us with their love and support.
To the unknowing eye, each game is a 32-minute run. Yet those who have been privileged to experience life “behind the scenes” know that the games are merely culminations of weeks of conditioning (both physical and mental), months of practice, and too many early morning practices to count.
In addition to preparing us players to perform on the court, the many hours spent together also cement the bond amongst teammates. But what is more priceless is the connection with our coach. Coach Varant is, without a doubt, one of the most influential people in the lives of his players, including my own. His belief in my potential pushed me beyond my own perceived limitations. (I mean, let’s be realistic, I didn’t think my barely-five-foot-frame could contribute much to the sport of basketball. Yet he instilled in me the belief that my size could serve me if used well: I learned to be quick and to steal the ball from taller and unsuspecting players). Through his actions more than his words, he modeled for us discipline, sacrifice, and commitment. His passion for perfection still inspires me. And, as years go by, his sincere interest in my family and our well-being touches me. He has been a coach, mentor, and friend who has continued to genuinely care for all of us off the court.
At this championship game, when the buzzer signaled sweet victory, our joy was compounded because we knew what this meant for our beloved Coach Varant (who has been coaching at Ferrahian for over 30 years). The crowd exploded into a passionate chant, “Thank-you-Va-rant. Thank-you-Va-rant.” As his former players and now friends, we have all witnessed the years of humble dedication, unending sacrifices, unequivocal commitment, and boundless belief he has poured into his players. Yet, not surprisingly, as the trophy was awarded to our Coach, the man who embodies humility and rarely takes credit for any of his efforts, walked over to the fans in the stands, pointed to us, and thanked us.
What a reassuring feeling knowing that it is this very man who has created a culture of integrity and hard work for the Armens Athletic Department and it is within this community that my daughters are currently being trained. Watching them play is probably one of the most special parts of being a Ferrahian Armens mom. Because while they dribble, run for a fast break, or play defense, I see beyond the court and the road that lies ahead. I see the teammates that will become their sisters, I see the coaches that will continue to pour belief and love into their lives, and I see how they will learn to embrace both victory and defeat with grace and integrity.
So why is this victory so significant? My reflections eventually led me to a greater realization: it is the very picture of our Armenian identity and the formula for living a meaningful life. In other words, use your talents to do what you love, lead with a servant’s heart, unite for a common purpose, support one another, and embrace victory together.