The Early Days
The JFK memorial Field Hockey Tournament (JFK) was largely the brainchild of Washington DC stalwart Ganga Dhillon, with unfailing support and loyalty of his friend and colleague D. Singh (Noble). In the early 1960s, local area leagues had started flourishing on the lush DC National lawns alongside the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial in cricket, soccer and field hockey. Messrs. Dhillon and Singh had the vision to take hockey to a new level, and based it on a dream that Ganga saw in Hamilton, Canada in 1964. Thus the concept of an annual premier tournament, the JFK, was born in 1965, becoming the year of fulfillment of that dream.
From the outset the mission was to build friendship and stronger bonds through sport, and to develop better understanding and mutual respect for people of all countries, rich and poor, through competition and sportsmanship. Athletic competition provides a wonderful opportunity for young people to learn the importance of setting goals and accomplishing them through determination and hard work. Hockey requires not only agility, speed and athletic prowess, but also long hours of practice and conditioning. Although only one Men’s and one Women’s team can claim victory at this annual event, the spirit of friendly competition demonstrating sense of teamwork, sportsmanship and fair play, brings the team closer together. The first tournament was launched in 1965, and in 2007, the JFK celebrates its 43rd Anniversary!
Through the 1960s and 1970s, the JFK gathered momentum, and Dhillon, with the unfailing assistance of Singh and many other individuals, organized and ran the event with tireless energy and enthusiasm year after year. After 13 years, through the consistent leadership of Ganga, this field hockey championship became firmly established as a recognized part of the Nation’s Capital sports scene.
The Camelot Years
In 1978, Ganga Dhillon officially turned over the chairmanship of the tournament to Kingdon Gould, Jr., former US Ambassador to the Netherlands and a prominent Washington attorney. Kingdon learned to play hockey while serving his country in the Netherlands, and brought a fresh enthusiasm and love of the sport to the JFK. A new era was carved out in 1978 when Jack Fish, Regional Director, National Park Services, dedicated new fields on the National Mall specifically to Field Hockey, and the JFK obtained provisional sanction of the tournament from the Field Hockey Association of America (FHAA) together with the United States Field Hockey Association (USFHA).
Kingdon’s charm and camaraderie was infectious and he motivated all hockey enthusiasts, from coaches, players, managers, spectators and friends. A cadre of smart players, organizers and umpires flocked to the court at Camelot, and the JFK Committee was infused with new blood and passion! Notable among the myriad of talented committee members were Sati Bajwa, Men’s Division, Ethel Armstrong-Merrigan, Women’s Division, Mary Bajwa, JFK Program, Frans van Wagenberg, Vice Chairman, Deborah Beaumont, Chairman’s Assistant, Meherji Madan, Awards, Tony Pereira, Photography, and two young rising stars Roque Viegas and Amrit Kohli, Umpires.
The JFK grew swiftly to become one of the largest international field hockey tournament in the US, with over 30 different nations from 4 Continents – the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. Each year it entertained 16 Men’s and 16 Women’s teams, with reserve teams jousting to get in if possible at the last moment! The award certificates succinctly set out JFK’s own words reflecting this new spirit of hope and challenge:
“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans born in this century tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage.”
The tournament was graced with Olympic hockey players from countries such as the US, India and Pakistan. The US Women’s Team which played exhibition matches at the JFK, succeeded in gaining a spot in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. The Indian Airlines Men’s Team, including 5 or 6 Olympians, became Champions of 3 consecutive tournaments, 1976 to 1978 (also won in 1973), by sports tradition, captured and kept the floating JFK Shield! This left the JFK without a “running trophy.” However, through the good graces and resourceful communications of Ganga Dhillon and the Indian Airlines Manager, KP Roy, Indian Airlines sponsored and donated a beautiful new, expensive silver trophy, incorporating a specially designed engraving of JFK’s bust made in the US and flown to India for placement on the trophy.
The Opening Ceremony, Official Photographs and Awards Ceremony each year were graced by a vast variety of ambassadors, dignitaries, politicians, and sports celebrities. Undoubtedly, the most famous celebrity to land (by helicopter!) on the National Mall was Pope John Paul II. On Saturday, October 6, 1979, his historic visit to the Nation’s Capital commenced alongside the perimeter of Field #3, when all play was temporarily suspended out of respect, allowing players and spectators alike to greet and wave to “Papa” at close quarters, with a minimum of security by the Secret Service, FBI and Police. The Pontiff left in a motor cavalcade to meet President Reagan at the White House, and gave Mass on Sunday to Washington citizens and visitors alike.
The JFK was famous for its lavish Saturday night Dinner Dance events, at notable locations like the prestigious Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill, major Metropolitan Washington hotels, waterfront sites like the Thompson Boat House, and even the Potomac cruise ship, the Spirit of Washington. Exhausted and ravenous hockey players found the buffets and refreshments most welcome and satisfying, later resuscitating and facilitating some raucous and wild après dinner singing, choruses and dancing!
As the 20th century came to a close, it became apparent that competition on grass was no longer acceptable at the national or international level, and play had to move to artificial turf fields. In 2000, the JFK sadly bid farewell to the magnificent site of the National Mall grass fields positioned between the Lincoln and Washington Monuments, alongside the Reflecting Pool and relocated to suburban Maryland. The 2000 new location was the turf fields at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland. The scheduled dates changed from October (usually Columbus Day Weekend) to June, fitting in with college vacation schedules. The JFK continued at the University of Maryland with somewhat fewer teams and spectators for 3 years till 2003, when a more prestigious, but more distant location was obtained in Southern Virginia.
The 21st Century
The JFK which originated in Washington DC, transferred to the University of Maryland, is now located in Virginia Beach, VA, at the US National Field Hockey Training Center. The tournament typically hosts 16 teams from the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. In addition to the state of the art facilities, Virginia Beach provides an atmosphere for camaraderie and friendship in the spirit of the tournament. Historical sites such as Jamestown and Williamsburg give a different opportunity to experience American history. The newly developed areas of Virginia Beach with shopping malls, golf courses, the aquarium and many other fun activities marked this location ideal for anyone to come and participate. The JFK Committee is proud to continue to host this tournament at Virginia Beach.
After his monumental role in the JFK for over 20 years, Kingdon Gould, Jr. has retired from active participation, and holds the position of Chairman Emeritus. The reins of Chairman have been taken over by Roque Viegas, and the Tournament Operations Director is none other than Amrit Kohli. They have provided capable leadership and sound management of the JFK for the past 8 years at the University of Maryland and the US National Field Hockey Training Center venues. Some of the active JFK Committee members include Meherji Madan, Marilyn Diorio, Brian Jones and Taulant Balla. Marilyn has been the Chairman’s Assistant for over 10 years and continues to provide rigorous support and assistance to the Chairman and JFK Committee.
It is clear that the JFK is on sound footing, and is ready to face and handle the challenges of the next renaissance, albeit in a location over 200 miles removed from the Presidential Washingtonian home of its namesake, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. All team players, coaches, committee members and fans would do well to remember the words of JFK in some moments of fine oratory:
"The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best, if he wins, knows the thrills of high achievement, and, if he fails, at least fails daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."
And who cannot be moved by the following sentiment, reflecting all that the JFK has stood and still stands for:
"When at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each one of us-recording whether in our brief span of service we fulfilled our responsibilities to the state-our success or failure, in whatever office we may hold, will be measured by the answers to four questions-were we truly men of courage ... were we truly men of judgment ... were we truly men of integrity ... were we truly men of dedication?