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About Us

O.Y.A.A. History

Since its inception in 1960, the Orthodox Youth Athletic Association (OYAA) has been the primary source for providing inter-Orthodox athletic activities in the metropolitan Detroit and Windsor areas. Beginning with four Orthodox churches, the OYAA has grown to include most, if not all, of the area churches through the years. For a list of the member parishes click here or simply use the link at the introductory page.

The OYAA arose out of two needs that were evident in the late 1950s. At that time, the City of Detroit was deficient in providing adequate recreational programs to serve its residents. Secondly, many of the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox churches believed there was a lack of activities for their youth. Prior to 1960, no organized athletic league existed for Orthodox young people in the Detroit area. The only athletic league at the time, known as the Hellenic League, was for Greek Orthodox young people and only sporadically provided activities in slow-pitch softball, basketball and bowling.

Because of these factors, members of the Orthodox communities represented by the Eastern Orthodox Council of Churches began discussing the idea of an informal or formal recreation program for all Orthodox young people. The Reverends Thomas Ruffin (from St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church) and Nicholas Fedetz (from Sts. Peter & Paul Russian Orthodox Church) were given the task of recruiting representatives from the various churches for the purpose of organizing an athletic program. On September 1, 1960, the first meeting was held at the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, and included representatives from Assumption, Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church, St. Lazarus Serbian Orthodox Church, St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church and St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. From that meeting, a decision was made to begin with a basketball season for the 1960-61 season, with future possibilities for slow-pitch softball and bowling. An acting chairman was named, Lambros Milonas from Assumption, and decisions were made regarding divisions of competition, finances, rules of play, facilities and officiating.

The first season saw two divisions of play - Seniors (unlimited age) and Juniors (18 & under) - with four teams entered in the Senior division and three in the Juniors. The teams played 6 games each, with St. Nicholas winning the Senior division and St. Lazarus winning the Juniors, and the season was deemed a success.

Additional meetings were held in 1960 and 1961, with more parishes sending representatives each meeting. The spring of 1961 saw the first slow-pitch softball season, a 10-game season, with 7 churches participating. The basketball program for the 1961-62 season saw an additional 2 teams participate and was also a success. The 1962 softball season expanded to a 12-game season and now had 10 churches participating. The programs continued into 1963, and the OYAA hosted its first bowling tournament. Unfortunately, problems began to develop in the organization including lack of communication between the OYAA and the parishes, lack of representation from certain parishes and the inability to collect entrance fees from some teams. In addition, there was a void in leadership after Lambros Milonas resigned as President of the OYAA. No basketball program was held in 1963-64, and one did not emerge again until 1968-69, based on factors including lack of organization and facilities, and because men were being drafted for the war in Vietnam. A reorganization meeting was held in April 1964, in order to revitalize the OYAA, and 20 representatives attended. The meeting resulted in an expanded leadership board in order to share the responsibilities of the OYAA. The 1964 and 1965 softball seasons turned out to be successful, and by 1966, there were 14 Senior teams and 7 Intermediate teams participating in the tournament. By 1967, softball had stabilized, and plans were underway to revive the basketball program.

In March 1968, the first National Pan-Orthodox Basketball Tournament was held, and 32 teams participated. In order to help defray costs, the first annual advertising booklet was published as well, which has been a tradition ever since. Because of the positive response, it was decided to continue the Pan Orthodox Basketball Tournament on an annual basis. A month later, the OYAA hosted the first Pan Orthodox Bowling Tournament in Detroit, and 25 teams participated.

The 1968 Pan Orthodox Tournament helped kick-start the basketball program, and 17 teams participated in the three divisions during the 1968-69 season. March 1969 saw 42 teams, from 6 states, participate in the Pan Orthodox Tournament. A year later, 25 teams participated in the season, the Basketball Tournament grew to 46 teams, and the Softball Tournament had 24 teams in three divisions. By the early 1970s, the Pan Orthodox Basketball Tournament had reached its maximum of 48 teams, and maintained that level of participation for many years.

By 1971, the Orthodox parishes decided it was time to introduce a girl's athletic program. Up until then, only boys and men had participated in the basketball and softball programs. The 1971-72 basketball season saw 6 girls teams participate in an 18 & under division, and was very successful. The same year, the Biddy division was introduced, allowing boys ages 8-12 to participate in the basketball season. Years later, the Biddy division turned co-ed, and was split in order to allow for more involvement from younger participants, to better match skill levels and to even out competition. The Biddy 'B' would be for boys & girls, ages 8-10, while the Biddy 'A' would be for boys & girls ages 11-12.

By the early-1970s, all the goals of the Orthodox churches and the OYAA were being met. The OYAA was providing recreational activities to Orthodox young people, as well as providing social functions such as the OYAA Annual Summer Dance and Raffle. As a result of the athletic participation and various social functions, the ties between the various churches and their people were being strengthened. The rich Orthodox faith that everyone shared was the common thread running through these bonds.

By 1973, the OYAA Basketball Season had 43 teams participating, and the 1974 Basketball Tournament was at maximum capacity (48 teams) with many other interested teams being turned away. That same year, the OYAA created the Orthodox Youth Athletic Association Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame was solely focused on giving recognition to the outstanding individuals who contributed to the development and ongoing success of the OYAA. To date, 52 individuals from 19 parishes have been elected to the Hall of Fame. 

From 1973 onward, the OYAA has maintained relative stability and success, particularly in terms of basketball. The OYAA Softball Program continued through the 1970's and into the 1980's. By that time, participation began to dwindle largely because of the number of softball leagues that were available through employers and communities. The Softball program has essentially been dormant since the late 1980's, except for a few years in the 1990's that saw a minimal number of teams participate. The OYAA occasionally hosted Bowling Tournaments throughout the first two decades, but one has not been held since the late 1970s.

But, to this day, the OYAA basketball program regularly sees 50 or more teams participating each season. As many as 14 different churches have participated in a season. Games have been hosted at the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church and St. John Armenian Church gyms continuously each season for over 30 years. The Pan Orthodox Tournament grew over the years, and now has 60-70 teams participating, utilizing 5 different gyms during the weekend. Championship games have seen 500 spectators cheering on their teams. Numerous Tournament participants, over the years, have gone on to play college basketball and even professional basketball in Europe. And, many of the OYAA "old-timers" now see their grandchildren participating in the OYAA basketball program and Pan Orthodox Tournament.

The OYAA is consistently striving to maintain and expand its basketball program over the upcoming years, hoping to get more involvement from the area Orthodox churches. In addition, the OYAA Board regularly discusses new recreational options and is open to suggestions for additional athletic activities that it could sponsor

From 1960 to the present, our mission has been and continues to be as follows:

To offer wholesome recreational and athletic activities of the various Eastern Orthodox churches in the metropolitan Detroit and Windsor areas.

• To conduct such recreational and athletic activities in a way that will foster the development of the all-around character of each individual participant.

• To contribute to the increasing and continual attendance in the Church and in youth programs that participate in the Orthodox Youth Athletic Association

The OYAA strongly believes that it is important for the Orthodox youth and young adults of the area to be regularly involved in the youth ministries of their respective parishes, and we will continue to work with each parish to provide the athletic avenue within these ministries. It is our hope that young people are encouraged by these youth programs, including the OYAA, and that it inspires them to be regularly active in the parish life now and in the future.