Sikh Games attract hundreds to Glen Cove

Rabani K. Arneja (left), 5, of Dix Hills,

Rabani K. Arneja (left), 5, of Dix Hills, along with Rajveer S. Gujral (right), 5, of Melville show off some of their awards from the The First Annual Sikh Games at Glen Cove High School, in Glen Cove. (Aug. 26, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Jessica Rotkiewicz)

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With a flick of her wrist, a real estate agent and married mother of two from Dix Hills etched herself into the history books Sunday afternoon.

Her accomplishment: women's table tennis champion at the first-ever New York Sikh Games.

Seconds after clinching a 21-18 victory, Hannet Arneja, 34, bounded toward her opponent with a wide smile and open arms, embracing her, then pulling away for a double high-five.

"This is my first time in life in competition," Arneja said. "It's amazing."

Arneja was one of at least 400 participants in Sunday's inaugural New York Sikh Games, a multisport event organized by the Gurdwara Mata Sahib Kaur, a Sikh temple in Glen Cove. The games drew participants from Long Island, New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

The daylong event at Glen Cove High School, which featured basketball, track, table tennis, volleyball, badminton and Indian dancing for children and adults, had all the trappings of a sports tournament with athletes in sweat-stained T-shirts and attendees cheering in both English and Punjabi from the stands. Attendees munched on pizza and fruit and some Indian favorites, including puri, unleavened Indian bread and gulab jamun -- cheese balls doused in maple syrup.

But the event was also tinged with reminders of the tragedy earlier this month at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, when a white supremacist burst into the Sikh place of worship and began shooting, killing six people.

A banner disavowing hate crimes that will make its way to the Wisconsin gurdwara, or temple, was signed by participants, many pledging their support and prayers for their fellow Sikhs. And security was deep: City of Glen Cove Police officers worked the event, as well as private security hired by the temple.

Manmeet Kaur Lamba, general secretary at the Glen Cove temple, said planning for the games came to a halt when she got word of the shootings.

"We were very disturbed," she said. "We wanted to put everything on hold and reach out to the Sikh community."

Temple officials ultimately decided to press on. The event, they said, was about outreach to young Sikhs.

"They're the ones that are going to take the religion forward," Lamba said.

The response was overwhelming, Lamba said, with Sikhs from temples as far away as Toronto and London expressing interest. Organizers said next year's games will most likely take place across two days to accommodate more participants.

On the edge of the outdoor track, 82-year-old Harjit Bhalla, described as the godfather of the New York Sikh community, waited to watch his grandson run the 100-meter dash.

Bhalla, who immigrated to the United States in 1969 and started a Sikh temple in the basement of a church in Flushing, Queens, helped found the Glen Cove temple back in 1997.

Luca Bhalla, 14, won his race.

"I'm very proud of my community," Bhalla said.

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