Tony Kariotis: Connecting Communities Online & On the Courts
By Giuliana Harris
Tony Kariotis may be from Massachusetts, but his commitment to the Greek-American community extends far beyond the East Coast. As soon as I met him and learned of his community engagement, I was struck by his selfless passion of sharing the Greek Culture with others. Last month, Tony was one of the 5 Greeks You Should Know About where he shared what his Greek heritage means to him. Many areas of his life are dedicated to the Greek Culture.
He has developed a presence with his Kefi Sports Radio show on KefiFM, is one of the main organizers for the Greek Heritage Night at the Boston Celtics, and also curates the Instagram account @Greece (www.instagram.com/Greece). Take one look at @Greece, and you’ll see that not only are there beautifully vibrant photos featuring the land and islands of Greece, but the profile also has over 52,000 followers. It is a social media space where users can submit their travel photography from Greece and admire the beauty of the country and feel, for a moment, that they are there. With this, he also created a personal Instagram, @iamGreece where he shares his own personal adventures from traveling in Greece.
Offline though, a cause that is near and dear to his heart is The Teddy K Classic Basketball Tournament, which honors the memory of his late father while also bringing Greek-Americans together. In anticipation of the 11th Annual Teddy K Classic, Tony spoke with me and shared about the history and evolution of the tournament.
Tony Kariotis and his family created the Teddy Kariotis Foundation for his father, Teddy Kariotis, who passed away in 2008. Teddy Kariotis had an extremely instrumental role in both the Boston community and the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston where he coached basketball. In speaking of his father, Tony shared, “My dad was a big part of our church’s youth sports program. He always kept it about the kids first, and not himself, and taught that things are bigger than basketball. That is something I have instilled in coaching, as I have been my church’s basketball coach since 2007.” In support, he elaborated, “This is best shown while experiencing the Teddy K Classic. The players on the court know that they are there for more than the basketball, it is more of a huge parea and the basketball comes second.” Committee members for the Teddy K Classic include Tony, his immediate family, and several volunteers.
The first tournament took place in 2009, in describing the beginning, Tony said, “A little bit after the emotions wore off, we basically thought of a way to keep his memory alive.” In speaking with a family friend, inspiration came together to put on the Classic and have it hosted by The Teddy Kariotis Foundation. It first started with 11 teams. He explained, “The first few years was players that all knew him so it was still fresh. Then around the fifth, sixth year, we started reaching a point where it’s the next wave of youth who never got to meet him.” The legacy of his father has continued because, “While they have never met him, they sort of get the gist of what the family is all about while they are there,” Tony detailed.
In looking back to the first tournament in 2009, Tony described further, “The first year was really special just because it was so fresh and everyone there, knew him. So, it was a bit more meaningful, for instance the final game, one of the players he [Teddy Kariotis] used to coach, had like the best game of his career…That sticks with me.”
Within the five days of the Teddy K Classic, which is held at Hellenic College Holy Cross in Brookline, MA, the games begin on the Wednesday night of the week that the tournament is being held. There are games each night starting at 6 PM, with Saturday and Sunday being mostly all-day affairs (Saturday starts at 8 AM and Sunday at 12 PM) and go into the evening; after the games end at 10 PM, social time commences.
Divisions include middle school (ages 10-14), high school (ages 13-18), men (all ages), and women (all ages). “Teams come from all around New England and New York, and we hope to stretch that out soon to Chicago, and as far as Los Angeles!” Tony said. In fact, last year, three teams from Brooklyn, NY participated. In describing the addition of the Brooklyn teams, Tony enthusiastically detailed their participation: “…From middle school, high school, girls’ team, parents came along. They basically filled the gym for the entire weekend, so half the bleachers were just New York people… For the first year… they came in with a bang, which was cool!”
In total, the tournament has garnered 28 to 30 teams at a time. Joining the tournament, there have been players come all the way from Washington and California to join their friends’ East Coast teams for the week. In having participants join from the West Coast, Tony spoke more about the future of the Classic: “What I picture to evolve is more teams coming from outside of the East Coast region. Hopefully one day a team from Greece comes, that would be a cool milestone!”
Along with the athletics, there are also scholarships available, which are made possible by sponsored donations. To date, there have been 23 scholarships given. Each year, there is a grand prize scholarship. After the grand prize scholarship, the committee also splits what is left from the proceeds and gives smaller scholarships as well. In detailing the selection process, Tony explained: “Each applicant is asked to submit an essay with a list of schools they have applied to and been accepted to. Our committee reads these essays with names covered up in case we know the applicant well, to keep anyone from being biased.” He also hopes to grow the scholarship funds too, he said, “Each year we have grown with sponsors that get involved to help build the scholarship. Hopefully down the road our scholarship is big enough to make a significant difference in somebody’s life.”
Reflecting upon building the event and other projects in his life, and the legacy of his father, Tony shared the various ways it has impacted him. “I feel working on this tournament taught me how to build something from the ground up. As my main career is a job I inherited from my dad, that he himself built quite some time ago. Building up the Kefi Sports Show on KefiFM has been fun and I have taken a similar approach, but quite honestly, it was a lot easier to build a tournament in my dad’s memory that everyone absolutely supports,” Continuing, he said what he takes from the memory of his father’s leadership is to keep working hard. Teddy’s exemplary leadership in community engagement shines through in Tony as he continues to bring communities together by way of playing on the courts together, curating social media content for Greece, and more. In closing, Tony further detailed, one should “not worry what others may think or say, and at the end of the day, if you have your goals and have a plan to get there, you will.”
The 11th Annual Teddy K Classic will take place May 1st to May 5th, 2019. To register and learn more about The Teddy K Classic, please visit www.teddykclassic.com
**Featured Photo (Top of the Page): Photo Credit – Nick Kafkas
Email the author: Giuliana