Early 1900s - A Brief Survey of Greek Amateur Athletics in New York City
A BRIEF SURVEY OF GREEK AMATEUR ATHLETICS IN NEW YORK CITY
By Steve Frangos
Published in The National Herald, June 10, 2006
I am excited to announce that The National Herald has given Hellenic Genealogy Geek the right to reprint articles that may be of interest to our group.
It must have been two years ago or so. I was sorting through the sports documentation at Notre Dame when George Rugg, the special archivist in charge of the collection, came into the research area with a xerox in his hand. The always generous Mr. Rugg handed me the “Greek” entry from the “Encyclopedia of Ethnicity and Sports in the United States (George B. Kirsch et. al., editors, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut: 2000: 197-200).”
I found the opening paragraphs by Nicholas Notaridis and Nick Koliarakis astounding: “The earliest record of organized Greek American ethnic sports participation dates back to circa 1906. Greek immigrants, like other newcomers, viewed sports as a means of preserving their group identity and providing pleasure while they were away from home. According to most credible sources, the earliest Greek American sports organization in the United States was the Greek American Sports Club. There is no official record or other information as to the exact year of its founding. However, it is believed that it was organized in the early 20th Century, around 1906 or 1908. Soon after, another Greek sports organization was founded in New York City. Its name was Hermes Sports Club; it is believed to be the first Greek American sports club to have started a soccer team. The two clubs merged around 1930 under the name Greek American Hermes S.C.”
None of this information is correct. I am not a sports historian, just a reader. I read everything I can find on the history of Greeks in North America. The amount of published material on the history of Greek immigrants and sports is more than I could ever hope to read.
Since Notaridis and Koliarakis are not surveying the entire United States in their article, but basically limit themselves to New York City, I will limit my account here to that city, as well.
Readily available published sources, from 1901 to the 1930's, basically the first 30-40 years of Greek immigrant amateur athletics in North America, can be effortlessly outlined for New York City. True, for the moment, not every name or every single statistic can be presented. But we can certainly begin to provide the very basics, on which our well intended colleagues, Notaridis and Koliarakis, fear to thread.
The first published account I have found in English on Greek participation in New York City sports is dated September 23, 1901: “The annual games of the Greek American Athletic Club, Sparta, at Ulmer Park, Bath Beach, L.I. (Long Island) were attended by a large number of outof-town Grecian athletes from Philadelphia, Boston, Lowell and even Washington. Much interest was taken in the events, which were well contested and which, as a rule, resulted in close finishes (New York Times).” Even in this all too tiny vignette, we learn that this event was not the first of its kind, and that the GAAC had established ties with other Greek immigrant athletes in other cities, at least in the eastern region of the country.
The summary of the 1901 GAAC annual games provides us more than the mere statistics of bygone days. Even in this very early news report, a vast array of sporting events is documented. This simple fact can not be overly stressed. In the few contemporary accounts which do exist on Greek American amateur sports, too many writers have projected back into history the importance of soccer.
Competition at these 1901 GAAC games included “Target Shooting at 100 Meters,” won by S. Blograints, with N. Dotoroto taking second. John Primpos of Lowell, Massachusetts won the “FiveMile Bicycle Race,” with D. Flores taking second. M. Leccas won “Throwing the Discus” with a throw of 87 feet, 9 inches (D. Geargoulas took second, A. Triploun took third). N. Brimbus won the “Five-Mile Run” (time 32:17), with N. Stravrides coming in second. Nicholas Yiahnes won “Throwing Iron Ball” (16 pounds) with a throw of 39 feet, 7 inches (D. Georgoulas came in second, and Michael Leccas third). Finally in the “Hop, Skip and Jump” competition, Leonidas Prihtakos won with a distance of 42 feet 3 inches (D. Georgoulas came in second).”
Next, on 5 February 1911, we learn about the GAAC's first indoor event: “The Greek American Athletic Club… has decided to take an active part in… games at the 22nd Regiment Armory, Brooklyn, on Saturday, February 18. The program will include a 60- yard dash, half-mile run, half-mile walk, running high jump, threemile run, standing broad jump… putting 12-pound shot, and hop, step and jump. There will also be gymnastic and wrestling exhibitions.”
Once again, we find the unexpected. Embedded in a February 13, 1911 story of the “New Model Aero Club, we learn that the “Greek American Athletic Club… has offered prizes to members of the club for two contests. The club has offered a cup for a new kind of contest called “spectacular flight,” and the members will show what control they have over their machines by performing dips, loops, spirals, glides and boomerang flights.”
You may ask, in the end, how important is it to know that, by 1911, Greek immigrants were involved in amateur model airplane races and competitive target shooting? To begin with, it answers the fundamental question of which sporting activities Greek immigrants first engaged in upon their arrival in North America. Soccer, as you might have noted already, is nowhere to be seen.
More importantly, wider American Society has too often portrayed the newly arrived Greek immigrants as unschooled, talentless and rough-hewed peasants who learned to be civilized useful citizens here in North America. This is not only simplistic, it is racist in the extreme.
Now it must be stressed tat this is about Greeks participating with other athletes, other ethnic groups and “native-born” Americans. They did not have to do this, by the way. Several news accounts report that some tournaments were closed to non-GAAC members. They were enjoying themselves, but they also tested themselves against all comers.
At this point, we may as well ask, exactly who participated in the GAAC in this early period. While a complete membership is not currently available, we do know that, from 1910 to 1914, the GAAC President was G. Panapulos who, in November 1914, had to resign because of business commitments. The new presidentelect, as of 9 November 1914, was E. Kehagas. During the same annual meeting which saw Kehagas elected, we find that Nicholas G. Psaki was elected vice president; C. Doganis, secretary; P. Tsigas, treasurer; A. Haggis, physical director; P.L. Adams assistant track captain; Theodore L. Matsukes, manager of athletics; D. Ladopulos, sergeant at arms; G. Strassinos, T. Anderson, P. Sioris, E. Stamulis and P. Katasiroubas as trustees.
What follows is a list of 75 individuals, who are all cited as members of the GAAC of New York City between 1901 and 1912:
S. Agamemnan, C. Agsostah, John Alexander, J. Andromedas, A. Anastopulos, C. Apostalakis, S. Blograints, F. Bountas, N. Brimbus, L. Buyuchas, T. Caragianis, L. Catsoulis, George Chambiris, P. Cocoros, A. Conkoros, M. Donkas, N. Dotoroto, G. Elfaris, L. Eflikidis, A. Emmanuel, T. Exachakis, D. Flores, D. Geargoulas, D. Georgitsas, J. Georgopoulos, P. Gianoulopoulos, K. Imschner, P. Johmoloyas, T. Karhakis, A. Karaganas, V. Kefaliakos, K. Kollins, A. Koropola, T. Kostaknis, E. Kostakos, T. Kostakos, Michael Leccas, G. Macahalis, G. Macklakos, H. Mamli, T. Matsoukee, Mel Meletiades, H. Marrilis, Nappires, F. L. Onken, James Pantagis, J. Pantozzi, N. Pappiris, J. Partazis, A. Patsurius, Anthony Petrontsas, J. Pontagis, N. Poppas, Leonidas Prihtakos, Vasil Pseodogianis, G. Sapounas, Bill Sarganis, T. Sohokus, T. Staros, George Stassimos, G. Stassinas, J. Stratas, N. Stravrides, T. Stavropulos, G. Sitopablos, George Thorakos, A. Triploun, George E. Tsamkiras, G. Tsampiros, V. Vassiloudes, T. Voutiritsas, T. L. Watsukes, G. Wilson, T. Xarhakis and Nicholas Yiahnes.
The published accounts surrounding the GAAC have wider significance than simply their place in amateur sports history. The sheer numbers of Greeks involved in these activities, the diversity of events entered and their undeniable record of award-winning accomplishments directly challenges the contemporary stereotype of the dowdy, illdressed and ill-spoken immigrant. All these news stories move well past the confines of sports history, challenging the immigration histories subsequently written about our intrepid forefathers.