11/27/2020 Kim O'Brien

Global Grad Uses Pro Athlete Platform for Good

This story is part of our #FandMInspires series. #FandMInspires is our tag for uplifting stories that show Diplomats of all ages improving themselves, encouraging others and affirming ideals that strengthen society.

It was just a normal Tuesday for Franklin & Marshall College graduate Hayk Gyokchyan ’13. 

The 6-foot, 8-inch hoops star completed an evening workout with his professional basketball team, Al Riyadi, in Beirut, Lebanon, Aug. 4. He noticed smoke billowing from the capital city’s cargo port on his drive home. 

Minutes later, one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions in history rocked the country.

“I drove by five minutes before it happened,” Gyokchyan said. “I got home, opened the door, and one of the doors blew down. Literally, one of the doors blew down.”

The blast, reportedly caused by improperly stored ammonium nitrate, rattled buildings as far as the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 100 miles away.

It also rattled the way of life for Lebanese citizens. Gyokchyan and his teammates quickly rose to the occasion. 

  • Former Diplomats hoopster Hayk Gyokchyan ’13 has played pro basketball since graduation. Former Diplomats hoopster Hayk Gyokchyan ’13 has played pro basketball since graduation. Image Credit: Al Riyadi Beirut
  • Gyokchyan (top right), teammates, and residents of Beirut gather to participate in relief efforts following the Aug. 4 explosion reportedly caused by improperly stored ammonium nitrate. Gyokchyan (top right), teammates, and residents of Beirut gather to participate in relief efforts following the Aug. 4 explosion reportedly caused by improperly stored ammonium nitrate. Image Credit: Hayk Gyokchyan
  • A gym in Beirut, Lebanon shows the aftermath of the capital city's Aug. 4 explosion. A gym in Beirut, Lebanon shows the aftermath of the capital city's Aug. 4 explosion. Image Credit: Hayk Gyokchyan
  • Al Riyadi Beirut sports club's basketball court served as the perfect space to package food boxes intended for the city's residents. Al Riyadi Beirut sports club's basketball court served as the perfect space to package food boxes intended for the city's residents. Image Credit: Al Riyadi Beirut
  • Al Riyadi Beirut sports club athletes teamed up to deliver boxes of food to residents. Al Riyadi Beirut sports club athletes teamed up to deliver boxes of food to residents. Image Credit: Al Riyadi Beirut

“We go to the people that need it”

Al Riyadi sponsored disaster relief efforts, cleaning up debris and broken glass. They distributed hundreds of boxes containing canned food, bread and water. 

“As a sports club, we go to the streets. We go to the people that need it,” said Gyokchyan, an Armenian native who spent most of his childhood in Lebanon before attending high school in the United States. 

Lebanese Basketball League athletes – Gyokchyan among them – took to social media to pressure government officials to render better aid to Beirut’s citizens.

It’s the type of fan connection you don’t often find in other leagues – and it’s one of many reasons Gyokchyan is staying in Lebanon, despite the country’s current economic crisis.

“People here are passionate about basketball. The fans here really engage with the players,” Gyokchyan said.

His widely followed social media accounts and personal blog spin a unique perspective on Lebanon’s highly partisan world of sports. Passionate fan bases often align with the country’s 18 officially recognized religious sects and affiliated political parties.

Fluent in Arabic, Armenian, and English, Gyokchyan easily connects with a wide base. 

From Lebanon to Lancaster 

What drew the globe-trotting Gyokchyan to Lancaster in 2009? 

“I was looking for the perfect combination of basketball and academics,” said Gyokchyan, who majored in business, organizations and society with a minor in mathematics. 

In Gyokchyan’s time at F&M, the Diplomats won four regular season titles, three conference titles, appeared in three NCAA Tournaments and made it to the Elite Eight twice.  

“It was honestly the best four years of my life. The friends that I made at F&M, they’re still my best friends,” Gyokchyan said.

“The business major at F&M was so wide and covered a lot of areas. I've always felt prepared in many different aspects,” he said.

That range has served him well, from navigating graduate school to collaborating with brands.

With the basketball season on hiatus due to COVID-19, Gyokchyan has directed his focus toward completing a master of science degree in sports management and leadership through the Modern University for Business and Science in Beirut and Cardiff Metropolitan University in London. 

The degree puts him one step closer to his dream of opening a sports facility or academy – a dream he thinks could help steer Lebanon out of economic crisis. 

“Lebanon is just a beautiful country, “ Gyokchyan said. “Its mountains flow straight down to the Mediterranean Sea. You can go to the city, then take a 45-minute drive to the beach. The people are amazing. Anything you want, you can have it here.”

  • Gyokchyan and teammates celebrate the Diplomats' 2012 Centennial Conference title with former F&M Coach Glenn Robinson, the all-time wins leader in Division III men's basketball history. Gyokchyan and teammates celebrate the Diplomats' 2012 Centennial Conference title with former F&M Coach Glenn Robinson, the all-time wins leader in Division III men's basketball history. Image Credit: GoDiplomats.com
  • In Gyokchyan’s time at F&M, the Diplomats won four regular season titles, three conference titles, appeared in three NCAA Tournaments and made it to the Elite Eight twice. In Gyokchyan’s time at F&M, the Diplomats won four regular season titles, three conference titles, appeared in three NCAA Tournaments and made it to the Elite Eight twice. Image Credit: GoDiplomats.com
  • While at F&M, Gyokchyan was named to the 2013 National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Division III All-America Third Team, NABC Middle Atlantic All-Region First Team, and the D3hoops.com Middle Atlantic Region Second Team. He also earned Centennial Conference (CC) Player of the Year and a spot on the All-CC First Team. While at F&M, Gyokchyan was named to the 2013 National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Division III All-America Third Team, NABC Middle Atlantic All-Region First Team, and the D3hoops.com Middle Atlantic Region Second Team. He also earned Centennial Conference (CC) Player of the Year and a spot on the All-CC First Team. Image Credit: GoDiplomats.com
Story 3/5/2021

Oxford Scientist Says Fusion Just a Few Years Away

At Common Hour, British physicist Colin Windsor discussed nuclear fusionfusion – an abundant...

Read More
Story 3/4/2021

Professor’s New Book Examines Black Politics Prior to 1860

In “The First Reconstruction: Black Politics in America from the Revolution to the Civil War,”...

Read More
Story 3/3/2021

Diplomats Abroad Overcome Pandemic Challenges

Despite the waxing and waning of the pandemic’s intensity last fall and early winter, four  F&M...

Read More