West Deptford, NJ – Over and over the message was echoed – on Thursday nights, all roads lead to Upper Darby and the Philadelphia Greek Basketball League at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church. Cheers and clapping went on each time that sentiment was made. However, this past Thursday night no baskets were scored or fouls made. Instead of a basketball game, the PGBL held its first Hall of Fame Banquet at the Riverwinds Restaurant in West Deptford, New Jersey, that inducted three individuals into the Hall of Fame and featured guest speakers and special presentations.
Co-commissioner and co-founder of the PGBL, John Vasiliou, was the Master of Ceremonies and began the evening introducing Nick Yiantsos, President of the Greek American Heritage Society of Philadelphia, the co-sponsor of the Hall of Fame Banquet. The GAHSP featured several media presentations around the hall, including Photos of the Year of the Philadelphia area Greek community and the Philadelphia Interview Series (seen on the GAHSP’s new website). A video preceded Yiantsos’ speech featuring the GAHSP and its efforts. Yiantsos then spoke about the important work the GAHSP is doing in preserving and archiving the history of the Greek-Americans in the Philadelphia area.
Featured speaker for the event was Eleni Zarbalas-Panteridis, a native of Upper Darby who now resides in southern Florida. She is the mother of three and is a distinguished attorney, who also skated for the Greek National Team at the 2014 Roller Derby World Cup held in Dallas, Texas in December. Zarbalas-Panteridis returned to her hometown to share her journey as a modern Greek woman in America and for representing her country, Greece. She was welcomed with cheers and a featured video, sponsored by the GAHSP. In her passionate speech, she discussed the challenges for a small country, Greece, and her bonding with fellow Hellenes from around the world to create the National Team. She also gave advice to the young adults in the audience – never give up on your dreams. Never let anyone tell you that you cannot fulfill your dreams.
Next was the PGBL’s Scholarship Committee, consisting of Georgia Chlectos, Nikki Vasiliou, and Amelia Economou, who presented the first Scholarship Award of $2,000.00 to PGBL player, George Armentani. Chlectcos explained that the scholarship is presented to a student of Greek decent in financial need and who participates in organized basketball. John Vasiliou then gave a brief overview of the PGBL Cares Programs and the work that the players do for charity including the feeding of homeless.
Vasiliou also introduced Evan Ostrosky of the Philadelphia 76ers who spoke about the upcoming Greek Heritage Night with the Sixers when they play the Giannis Antetolounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on April 13, 2015. Immediately following was a few words from Co-commissioner and co-founder of the PGBL, Bill Zonios.
The highlight of the evening was the induction of the three individuals into the PGBL Hall of Fame Class of 2015. The Honorable Harry Karapalides, Magisterial District Judge of Upper Darby, was given the honor of introducing each inductee. Karapalides told the audience that each pro sports league has their hall of fames in different towns and now Upper Darby has its own hall of fame – the PGBL Hall of Fame.
He introduced the first inductee, George Pagiotas of the PGBL team, the Sixers, who is referred to as “Big George.” “I take this league and the game serious, it means a lot to me to be part of it,” said an emotional Pagiotas as he addressed the crowd.
Karapalides also introduced Cosmos Philly’s Vasili Keisoglou and Eleftherios Kostans, who were also inducted into the Hall of Fame. Keisoglou and Kostans have been covering the league each Thursday night for past four years. Their images and commentary have helped bring attention to the PGBL from around the globe, by featuring it on Cosmos Philly. Kostans spoke of two Greek communities. “The one is the 1970-80s historic neighborhood surrounding St. Demetrios, in Upper Darby, and the playground known as Cardington, where young Greek men played all sorts of sports. When the community evolved and moved into the suburbs, it never really left. Today, it just moved indoors on Thursday nights, just down the street, to St. Demetrios and became the other community.” said Kostans.
With Karapalides’ declaration, “By the authority vested in me by the PGBL Hall of Fame committee, I do hereby induct into the Class of 2015,” the three were officially inducted into the PGBL Hall of Fame, and joined the other Hall of Famers: Class of 2013 – Bill Zonios, John Vasiliou, Jim Armenakis, Chris Vasiliou, and the St. Demetrios Church, and Class of 2014 – Stelios Lambrou and Lazaros Kalemis. With a few closing remarks by Vasiliou the night ended with thoughts of next season and next year’s Hall of Fame Banquet.
Three new organizations came together for the first PGBL Hall of Fame Banquet. The PGBL, the GAHSP, and Cosmos Philly united and staked a claim for the future of Hellenism in Philadelphia. As partners, they represent a new and progressive way of thinking that will take Greek American community into the 21st century as leaders.
The PGBL comprises of ten teams made up of Greek men from around the Delaware Valley. From Reading, Pennsylvania to Atlantic City, New Jersey, they come to share a night of sport and Hellenism. Each week, they compete (Thursdays and Sundays) and bond as Greeks. On Thursday nights, St. Demetrios is transformed into a microcosm of Hellenic culture. The smell of fresh Spanakopita, men playing tavli, Greek dance practice in the adjacent gym, the Greek language being spoken and music are just some of the cultural aspects that make St. Demetrios and the PGBL so special. And it all revolves around basketball. The Greek community is alive and well at St. Demetrios the hub of Hellenism.