The first University of Maryland Eastern Regional Asian Invitational Sports Festival last weekend drew teams from 27 colleges to the College Park campus, a response that surprised even the tournament's volunteer organizers.
Players representing Asian student organizations at East Coast schools from Harvard to Duke competed in basketball, volleyball and table tennis.
For years the teams have played in other Asian sports tournaments at Boston-area colleges and at the University of Pennsylvania, but Maryland's first event drew more than 600 participants, the largest turnout ever, organizers said.
Participants said they also were suprised to discover some of the new elements blended into the program by organizer Phillip Q. Hwang, a graduate math student and teaching assistant.
"Asian students are the most diversified group," Hwang said. "And the misunderstandings between Asian nationalities are passed down by word of mouth."
So unlike the other tournaments, Maryland accepted only one team in each sport from participating schools, Hwang said. That, he said, forced teams otherwise organized by nationality to merge. The aim was a cultural mix.
Players were were greeted by a delegation of dignitaries, with introductory speeches by College Park Chancellor John Slaughter and Anna Chennault, Reagan administration special liaison for Asian affairs.
The formalities had students trading quizzical glances.
"They never have ceremonies at tournaments," said Joseph Lee, a Columbia University basketball player. "I was surprised. They're making this a really big thing."
Maryland's invitational was full of the high-spirited competition traditional of tournament play. Old rivalries flared in the intimate circle of competitors, some of whom grew up together.
"As a matter of fact, both of my brothers are on Baruch Bernard M. Baruch College's team ," said David (Cheezy) Chen, star of the Temple University basketball squad. "It's going to get slightly physical.
"Everybody tries hard. You'll see people get pretty ragged," he said. "Sometimes it gets almost too emotional."
"There are still some little rivalries between the Ivies," said Shirley Te, a sophomore at Brown University, whose volleyball team--one of the more diverse--included Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and a Vietnamese. "Mostly, though, it's fun. . . . A lot of people have never experienced a lot of Asians in one place like this."
Getting a program together for all those students was a challenge itself, according to Hwang, who trudged through the recent blizzard to secure last-minute financial support.
He and his wife, Yuan-Yuan, spent the last sleepless nights frantically arranging and organizing with new friends they met in the process, such as Betty Lee, who in one day made programs, flyers, tickets and signs after the committee appointed to do it disappeared.
"At first everyone was skeptical" about putting together the tournament, Hwang said. "But then the response was incredible."
Sunday night, the trophies were awarded. In basketball, Northeastern University of Boston won first place, New York City's Baruch won second, and Rutgers University, third.
In women's volleyball Baruch won first, Harvard second and University of Pennsylvania third. In men's volleyball Harvard was first, University of Pennsylvania second, and University of Maryland third.
In table tennis the University of Maryland took first place, Princeton took second place and a second University of Maryland team took third.