GLENDALE–The Navasartian Games is the largest sporting event west of the Mississippi. Organized by Homenetmen—-the Armenian General Athletic Union and Scouts-—this year’s games are sure to be full of excitement and fun. A long standing member and Chairperson of the Regional Athletic Counsel, Nyree Derderian, gave Asbarez an intimate look at what goes into the planning of such an enormous set of sporting events.
Having been a scout from the ages of 2 to 14 and an athlete from the ages of 14 to 25, Nyree’s dedication has not faltered. Now, she not only coaches teams, but she also organizes and coordinates the games. The process begins when the Regional Executive of the Homenetmen appoints a Regional Athletic Council for a two year term. According to Nyree, this year’s Council has become a great deal more approachable to both athletes and coaches alike. Along with their accessibility, they have drastically improved games by taking into consideration what the athletes want, which officials they feel comfortable with and making the games more exciting in whichever way they can. This term, the Council consists of prior athletes and coaches. Having all been veterans, they bring to the table a fresh new set of ideas, while also staying true to the traditions that have made the Navasartian games a classic event in the Armenian American community.
However, the Navasartian games aren’t the only thing on the Regional Athletic Council’s to-do list. They plan the Kaham games; the February games in San Diego; they take the 10 to 14 year-olds to the Fresno games in March; they plan games in Orange County for 8 to 10 year-olds, as well as the Ararat games for people ages 6 to 50. After taking a hiatus for a few months following the Navasartian, which they refer to as “The Big Dance,” they plan for a huge Labor Day event in San Francisco.
Homenetmen’s planning and organizing never ends, as is true of their innovative ideas and their constant spirit.
Luckily, the economic downturn didn’t affect this year’s games. Charging each member a reasonable participation fee, they ensured every team’s ability to secure a spot and fund the necessities of the tournaments. In fact, having participated in 32 out of the 34 annual Navasartian games, Nyree says she has even witnessed a significant increase in the number of people who participate. When she was an athlete, there would be 6 to 7 Chapters and each Chapter would represent a majority of two teams in certain divisions. Now, they have over 17 Chapters, some of which have up to 73 participating teams.
Nyree attributes the great increase to how the dynamics within the Armenian American community have changed. With the Armenian American population growing in such drastic numbers, people are looking to Homenetmen as a means to keep close to their culture.
One of the greatest parts of the games is how multigenerational they are. Nyree encourages all kids and adults to get involved, especially if they love athletics. However, it doesn’t stop there. Whether you are athletically inclined and want to participate on one of the basketball teams, whether you prefer a good mental challenge and want to be involved in the chess tournaments, or you want to volunteer, there is definitely a place for everyone. One of the greatest benefits of being involved in the athletics is how family oriented the entire affair can be. You can have a father playing Soccer in the morning, coaching his son’s tennis game in the afternoon, and in the evening watching his grand-daughter’s swimming tournament.
“The best way to get involved is to come see a few of the events and I guarantee it will make you want to put on a jersey and play. We have a multitude of sports, including track and field, gymnastics, karate, and table tennis,” says Nyree.
With the festival right around the corner, the Council has tried to schedule all of the exciting and most popular games, such as volleyball, basketball, or soccer, for those specific days of the July 4th holiday weekend, so that attendees really witness the heart of the Navasartian games while enjoying great food, live music and valuable company.
The list of volunteers is endless and Nyree could not say enough about her gratitude toward all their hard work and dedication. She said, “I commend all our volunteers for working so diligently, taking time away from their social lives and work, and staying till late hours of the night to ensure success of these events.” And she is not alone in feeling that gratitude. No doubt every person who participates in any way in these events appreciates everything it takes to make them happen. It is with these events that our community stays close knit and continues to support one another. Her first words when asked how this experience felt for her, without skipping a beat she responded with, “It is absolutely rewarding. It’s rewarding to be able to give back after all these years of being part of something that nourished my childhood.”