LOS ANGELES - Thousands of Armenian-American athletes from the West Coast have been competing in a variety of sports over the past several weeks ahead of the highly-anticipated championship games this weekend.
Organizers of the event at the Los Angeles City College are expecting tens of thousands to attend the sporting finals and 3-day festival that features food, live music and an arts and crafts marketplace.
"Homenetmen is an organization that dedicates itself to working with children through athletics and scouting; that really welcomes not only families across our community, but really has dedicated itself to instilling the values of hard work, kindness, humility and has a real strong emphasis on volunteering and it has been in operations for over a century and has a really strong presence in the greater Los Angeles area," said Katy Simonian, Homenetmen’s 45th Navasartian Games and Victory Ball Committee.
This year marks a comeback year for the 45th Navasartian games and victory ball – following the hiatus during the pandemic.
Homenetmen’s motto is to "elevate yourself and others with you." Giving back to the community is what this organization is all about.
"One program that was started shortly before the pandemic is called Hrashq. In Armenian, it means ‘Miracle.’ This program is dedicated to athletes with special needs," said Simonian.
Hrashq was inspired by Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s vision for the Special Olympics. Founding members created a coaching system – tailored to the needs of every child.
"They’re able to participate in different athletics they're able to work with trainers who have really dedicated themselves," said Simonian.
The first Southern California chapters of Homenetmen were founded in the 1970s, but the roots of the organization go far back. There is a lot of history and significance behind the organization.
"Its founding member was a star athlete and sadly part of the first group of Armenian leaders to perish in the early stages of the Armenian Genocide. It is beautiful to think that his vision for what this organization could be has been able to withstand over a century of challenges and obstacles, but also just a great deal of commitment from its members to be able to carry on that legacy," said Simonian.
Henrik Sardarbegian is carrying on that very legacy. When his family moved to the United States in 1988, his parents wanted to make sure he made friends, stayed out of trouble and kept the Armenian culture alive. He started competing as an athlete at the age of 8.
"The goal isn't to try to create NBA or MLS stars. The goal is to establish good human beings that have respect for the community," Henrik Sardarbegian.
That love for his community all of these years later is why Sardarbegian continues to compete to this day even as an athlete. His two sons now play basketball and soccer; and somehow he finds the time to coach and serve as an executive board member at the Glendale Ararat chapter.
"All the kids kind of come together. It doesn't matter where you're from, it doesn't matter what your background is. In reality, it doesn't even matter how skilled you are at a specific sport. Homenetmen’s goal isn’t to create superstar athletes, it is to create good human beings that are able to get along with each other, respect each other," said Sardarbegian.
Sona Guekguezian has also been participating since childhood.
"I have been a member for over 20 years since I can remember. I played basketball, I played soccer, I have done swimming, I play ping pong. Pretty much done it all," said Guekguezian.
"My mom has been a volunteer and an active member for years. She's been part of the festival committee and this year she's dragged me in with her," she adds.
For her, the sense of belonging and generational tie is what makes this organization so special.
"From the youngest athletes, I just I can always remember the line of grandparents sitting on the sidelines cheering you know their grandkids on it just it's something that has been instilled in us. I think it gives you a sense of identity and a sense of belonging, it makes it puts things in perspective and makes you realize that, ‘Yes. You are one person, but when you come together, I mean the atmosphere when you’re at the game or you're at a closing ceremonies event, it's just really electrifying and it's almost contageous. You can't help but feel good and in surrounding like that, with all your people," Guekguezian said.
Athletic competitions and Finals will convene from June 29 to July 3. The Festival, featuring live entertainment, great food, and fun booths, will begin on Friday, July 1st, from 4 p.m. and continue through Sunday, July 3rd.
The Closing Ceremonies will commence on Sunday, July 3rd at 6 p.m., the highlight of which will be the Parade of Champions, where crowds will salute our young athletes and volunteers who embody the spirit of the Navasartian Games.
Los Angeles City College is located at 855 N. Vermont Avenue. Accessible parking, as well as Metro and Bus Stops, are available.