n the late 1950’s, Bob Chaimson was not only President of the Washington, D.C. Table Tennis Association, he was also USTTA Membership Chair--with his chief and only Committee members being his wife Leona and daughters Barbara (born 7/07/42) and Donna (born 1/12/47). As Bob doubtless began to visualize, he was about to have much more of a symbiotic relationship with his daughters, for, from 1959-65, while he was serving as USTTA Vice-President, they were winning U.S. National Championships.
Donna was pointed in the right direction right from the start--her first contact with the Sport was at a D.C. Boy’s Club when she was a precocious nine-year-old. By the following year, 1957, she was already traveling, playing in her first National’s, at South Bend.
After two more years of play, young Donna, now 12, won the Women’s Novice at a Columbus, Ohio tournament--which meant, happily, she was coming of age, and of course was becoming quite a threat in her age group.
Sure enough, in 1960, she won the annual Canadian National Exposition (CNE) Junior Miss Championship at Toronto--over Helen Sabaliauskas, later the Canadian Women’s Singles Champion. But while sister Barbara, a future USTTA Hall of Famer herself, was winning U.S. Junior Miss titles in ‘60 and ‘61, Donna was losing the U.S. Open Girls Under 15 to Jamaican whiz-kid Joy Foster.
In 1961, Donna captured her first U.S. Open title--the Under 17 Women’s Doubles, with Long Island’s Terry Larsen.
And a year later, while Barbara distinguished herself by getting to the Women’s Singles final at the U.S. Open, Donna won the U.S. Girls Under 15 over Michigan’s Connie Stace (later Sweeris). Also, that fall of ‘62, the two sisters and Julia Rutelionis took the Women’s National Team Championship.
The next three teenage years proved Donna’s prowess as a player--though, as we’ll see shortly, it’s not just her strong play that’s put her into our Hall.
In 1963, just out of the 15’s, Donna won the U.S. Open Under 17’s, again beating Stace, her perennial rival. Donna was also on court with Connie in two other U.S. Open finals that year--winning the Junior Miss Doubles with her, and winning the U-17 Mixed (with Jeff Swersky) against her.
However, in starting the ‘63-64 season in Toronto, Donna lost twice to Connie--in the semi’s of the Women’s, in 5; and in the Junior Miss. But she managed to win the Mixed with Bobby Gusikoff.
At the U.S. Team Championships, Barbara didn’t join Donna and Julia in defending their title, but substitute teammate Yvonne Lescure Kronlage proved helpful enough. Both Donna and Connie posted 21-1 records--but, though Donna was upset by Ohio’s Mary Landfair, she beat Connie, and was therefore given the Most Valuable Player award.
In 1964, Donna’s best year as a player, she reached the U.S. Open Women’s Singles final before losing to Vallerie Bellini. However, she did win three National titles at that Open--the Women’s Doubles with Stace, the Mixed with Bobby Fields, and the Jr. Mixed with Mark Radom. She was ranked U.S. #2--one of the five times in her career she’d be among the Top 8.
After a loss to Pat Havlick (later Pecora) in Toronto, Donna had another good Team Championship--was 13-2, with a loss to Stace but a fine win over Toronto’s Violetta Nesukaitis who’d go on to win multiple U.S. and Canadian National Championships.
At the ‘65 U.S. Open, Donna and Connie successfully defended their Women’s Doubles crown, but on losing both the Maryland Open and Closed to her married sister, Barbara Kaminsky, Donna decided she’d had enough table tennis.
She too married, became Donna Newell, and had two daughters, Michele and Jennifer.
Six years later, however, Donna was back playing competitively again. And during the ‘71-72 season Table Tennis Topics named her "Woman of the Month."
But her return was short-lived.
Life without table tennis, a marriage that had failed, brought confusing perspectives.
Then 1977 became something of a watershed year. Donna found a partner in David Sakai--they’d known one another early...20 or more years ago--and together they won the U.S. Open A Mixed Doubles. Afterwards, it was off to Toronto. Donna had started going there as a player when she was 11, but this time she was also Captain of the U.S. Women’s Team.
Though it wasn’t possible for Donna in her 30’s to stretch to past successes, she remained a strong player in Class A events in major tournaments across the country. For example, in exciting matches that showed her continued competitiveness, she beat our U.S. Team Captain to the 1977 Birmingham World’s, Heather Angelinetta, 23-21 in the 3rd, and also our aging but unbowed 10-time U.S. Women’s Champion, Leah ("Miss Ping") Neuberger, 19 in the 3rd.
Thus it was only a matter of time before she again added more National Championships to her already impressive playing career. The cascade of foreign stars coming to our Opens couldn’t sweep all attention away from Donna because she had rock-solid standing--had begun the 1980’s by winning both the Women’s A’s and the Women’s A Doubles (with Kronlage).
In 1985--another watershed year--sister Barbara was inducted into the USTTA Hall of Fame, and Donna married David Sakai. As she’d make clear, she’d bring to table tennis and to this marriage what was needed--her 18 year-background in telecommunications, including such primary areas of responsibility as "public relations, problem solving, team planning, and major product coordination."
By 1990, she was well on her way to a second qualification as a Hall of Fame candidate--that of Contributor. She’d "assisted in the operation and administration of the Control Desk at many large regional tournaments (Maryland Open, Easterns, North American Championships) and the last four U.S. Closed and U.S. Open tournaments"--this, along with helping out "at five Olympic Festivals."
Now she was to offer a third qualification--that of Official. She decided to run for USTTA executive office, as Secretary of the Association--utilizing her experience as "Secretary of the [Washington, D.C.] Metro Area Table Tennis Club," and as "President of the Northern Virginia Table Tennis Club.
"I care and I’m capable," she’d said--and who could doubt it?
She was elected and, while the USTTA changed its name to USA Table Tennis and its Executive Committee to the Board of Directors, she stayed on for three terms, ever expanding that 1990 resume--by, for example, perennially directing our U.S. Opens and Closeds, and running and working toward the expansion of other major tournaments such as the "World Team Trials, World Doubles Cup and various pre-Olympic trials events."
Mindful that in her role as administrator she was communicating to one and all that Table Tennis was a "sport for all ages," she continued her reemergence as a strong player --combining her election wins with U.S. Closed Over 40 Championships, both in Singles and Doubles, and, after another absence, later, in ‘99 at Las Vegas, moving on into the new millenium by getting to the final of the U.S. Women’s Over 50. Indeed, she and David over the years have traveled so much and been so successful that they richly deserved to be robed in ermine, or at least in encomium--Topicseditor Larry Hodges’ proclamation that for a time in Table Tennis History they were undoubtedly the King and Queen of the Senior Circuit.