US Hall of Fame Women in the Over 70s and 80s at the 2018 World Veteran Champs

By Larry Hodges | June 19, 2018, 6:30 p.m. (ET)



The Fab Four of Over 70 Women USATT Hall of Famers are battling it out at the tables here are the World Veterans. The Elvis Presley generation is anything but done with table tennis - they trained hard for this tournament and are hoping to medal - perhaps with a little gold.

The four share a number of similarities. All four are right-handed shakehanders with short pips on the backhand, regular inverted on the forehand. All four married table tennis players. All four have been competing, often with each other, for 60+ years. All four have traveled the world as members of U.S. National Teams.

Let's take a look at these four, whose names are linked to their Hall of Fame profiles by Tim Boggan.

Connie Sweeris probably had her best result at the 1971 U.S. Open, where she won Women's Singles, Women's Doubles (with Wendy Hicks), and Mixed Doubles (with husband and fellow Hall of Famer Dell Sweeris - together they have won countless mixed doubles titles). She is entered here in Over 70 Singles and Doubles, playing with long-time partner and rival Donna Sakai. The two won the bronze medal at the last World Veterans in Spain two years ago in the 65-69 age category - and now they are moving up and hoping for more!

Connie prepared for the tournament by playing at least twice a week, at the Grand Rapids TTC and the Holland TTC, both in Michigan. She also practiced at home with Fred Knapp, a 2000 player who often came to their house to train with her and Dell. Regarding that house, she lives on a golf course - really!!! It's the Stonewater Country Club. She plays pretty regularly, with a 21 handicap and a 20.7 index. She has two holes in one! She plays regularly in a Ladies' golf league.

She was a member of the 1971 Ping-Pong Diplomacy Team that toured China. She greatly enjoyed the Legends segment of the Opening Ceremonies here, where members of the Ping-Pong Diplomacy Team were called on stage - Connie, Judy Hoarfrost, George Brathwaite, and Errol Resek.

Donna Sakai is not only a player, but a long-time contributor. She was on the USATT Board of Directors for many years and was the tournament director for about 10 U.S. Opens and Nationals. One of the ironies here is that for many years, while she was doing USATT work, her husband, Dave Sakai, focused on playing. Now it is Dave who is co-chair of the 2018 World Veterans (though also playing), while Donna gets to focus on playing. But it was for both her playing and contributions that she was awarded the USATT Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.

As a player, Tim Boggan probably describes it best in her Hall of Fame profile: "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 [Connie Sweeris], 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."

She prepared for this tournament by playing about 4-5 times a week, mostly at the Las Vegas TTC. (She and Dave have homes in both Las Vegas and Maryland.) She's won every senior title she's been eligible for at the Nationals and Open, and now hopes for more medals at the World Veterans - she and Connie Sweeris won the bronze two years ago at the World Veterans in 65-69 Women, and they hope to repeat or do more here in 70-74 women.

Donna spent many years working in Information Systems for Bell Atlantic (now Verizon). She retired in 1999 and now is the CFO for Senoda, the printing company started by husband Dave. Her sister is Barbara Kaminsky, who comes next - they were originally Barbara and Donna Chaimson, son of long-time table tennis organizer Bob Chaimson.

Barbara Kaminsky's best titles were probably winning the Canadian Open Women's Singles Title three times. She said she has trouble remembering all her titles - but there were a LOT. (Just browse over her Hall of Fame profile.) She is playing in 75-79 Women's Singles and Doubles. Her partner is Fumiko Sato of Japan.

She prepared for the tournament by playing five times a week at the Herndon Senior Center and the Providence Rec Center, where she said there were numerous very good players. But she also did a lot of physical training. Five times a week she did flexibility, strength, and stamina training. She also does lot of yardwork, even mowing the lawn regularly - and dreads how long the grass will be when she returns home to Virginia.

She also plays a lot of golf, though she wasn't sure what her handicap was. She plays twice a week in a nine-hole golf league - and she never uses a cart, always uses a wheeled cart and walks the course. She is married to Bob Kaminsky, a long-time player and organizer, but he was unable to attend this year.

Yvonne Kronlage was a top player and won many titles, but even more so was a top organizer, official, and coach for table tennis. She was Vice President of USA Table Tennis and the team captain and/or coach at a huge number of international events. She also ran dozens of U.S. Opens, Nationals, and 4-star tournaments, and for over 20 years ran monthly tournaments in Maryland. She has also been running clubs for many decades, going back to the 1970s. She was awarded the USATT Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.

She prepared for the tournament by playing three times a week, about two hours each time. However, she had a bad start to the tournament - as she put it, "I did not get to practice against junk, long pips." She is playing in 80-84 Women's Singles and Doubles, the latter with Sylvia Tyler, the English Over 80 Women's Champion. Yvonne's been having some eye problems, and in July and August will be having her cataracts replaced.

Outside table tennis her life has gone to the dogs - and other animals. For many years she ran a petting zoo at her home in Maryland, and she still raises horses (with daughter Yvette) for horse and cart shows. For the record, the current animal roll call at home is: 6 dogs, 10 horses, 1 llama, 2 donkeys, 1 show pigeon, 6 chickens, and 2 cats. (She said she once had 18 cats.) All of them, other than the horses, are rescue animals. She sadly said that her last sheep died recently. Alas, her husband, Carl, another former top player and a longtime employee at the National Security Agency, died in 2005.

*****

Forty-two years ago I got into table tennis, discovering the sport at the library from "The Money Player" by Marty Reisman. From there I got USATT contact info, and found out about a local club, the New Carrollton TTC. I called to get info, and who was the first person I ever talked to from the table tennis world, in 1976? Mrs. Kronlage. Who was the first player I ever played at a table tennis club? Her daughter, Yvette. Who was the first player to give me table tennis instruction? Bob Kaminsky, husband of Barbara. Who was at the club and played me regularly as I learned to play? Yvonne and Carl Kronlage, Barbara and Bob Kaminsky, and Donna Sakai. Who did I play and practice with regularly years later in the 1980s? Dave and Donna Sakai. Who did I team up with three times at the U.S. Open Team Championships? Connie, Dell, and Todd Sweeris.

The years have rolled by, but the Fab Four play on.