BY ELISE KALFAYAN
Little League baseball in Glendale was a semester-long refresher course each year on the American way of life. Demanding coaches, a hectic schedule, and a win-lose setup were just a few of the subjects players and parents had to master. April brought an Armenian dimension into the mix for me. There were only a few Armenian-Americans in the league, but those I came to know were devoted to both their American community and their Armenian heritage.
Glendale had five separate Little Leagues in 1999. We signed our son up with Glendale’s Jewish War Veterans Little League, which local folklore held was the first chartered Little League in the state of California (more on that later).
A 2005 merger with Jewel City Little League gave us the benefit of that league’s mid-season barbeque at Brand Park. Held in April and featuring events and games throughout the day, it was overseen by Greg Krikorian, Jewel City League President. Krikorian was also on the board of the Glendale Unified School District. In addition to two sets of board meetings, coordinating the league barbeque, scheduling games with Glendale park staff, coaching a team himself, and helping manage a family business, I discovered that, while wearing his school board cap, he was simultaneously helping the Armenian Clubs of GUSD high schools plan a joint genocide commemoration program and promoting it with them.
(Now running for the 43rd California State Assembly District seat, Krikorian is also still serving on the Glendale School Board, active in Little League, managing his business, and assisting with Glendale Unified students’ April commemoration program. I received his community eblast about this year’s program, “Our Traditions Keep Us Alive,” which will be held Thursday, April 19, 7 p.m., at Glendale High School.)
At the 2006 April mid-season barbeque, I was one of the volunteers Krikorian recruited. While talking with another Armenian–American couple involved in the league, Setrak and Carol Attarian, I learned that their whole family was participating in the April 24 march and protests in Los Angeles. Carol Attarian, like me, was born in Southern California, and both Attarian sons were born here as well, but Armenian causes were still close to their hearts and they were taking the day as a family to demand justice for our ancestors. Just last summer, their younger son went to Armenia with the Land and Culture Organization to help uncover and restore ancient church sites.
To our young players, baseball seasons seemed as if they would continue forever, but the years flew by for us as parents. My extended conversation with Larry Zarian was the last highlight of my American-Armenian baseball experiences in April. In 2007, before I retired from those fields, I tried to confirm the legend that the Jewish War Veterans of Glendale chartered the very first Little League in the state of California. I asked around and got some referrals to past league board members who had connections to even earlier board members, and somehow I was directed to Zarian, who had been the first Armenian-American mayor of Glendale and served a record-setting four terms.
We had never met, and Zarian didn’t know me at all when I called him up at home to ask about this, but he spent close to an hour on the phone with me, recalling his own years as a parent in Little League, the great experience it was for him and for his sons, the fields and coaches, and the many people he got to know at the games. He gave me several leads on the Jewish War Veterans League question, and while these came to nothing (if anyone reading this now can get a confirmation – let me know!), I was so impressed at his openness and willingness to help a random caller from out of left field!
Baseball is called the great American past time, but those Little League years were a great American discipline for players and parents –training us to work together, build teams, and think strategically. Each April, I think of those I met through baseball who brought that same discipline and dedication to the Armenian cause.
Elise Kalfayan is a Glendale resident, a native Southern Californian, and a combined first/second generation Armenian-American. She has produced or edited print and online pieces on topics ranging from urban development to Armenian Church history. She is the publisher of a Glendale community news blog, and works as a contract writer, editor, and publishing consultant for clients including businesses, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and memoirists.