It was Oct., 1972, and (Photo #1) the appearance of a father-daughter combination at the Southwestern Open in Bartlesville, Oklahoma caused quite a stir. The father, Bohdan “Bob” Dawidowicz, the hat trick winner at this Open and a house painter by profession, had come to the States from Poland where reportedly he was ranked #4 among the Men. His 11-year-old daughter, Katarzyna, sometimes called “Kasia”, sometimes “Kathy,” a 6th-grade student in Aurora, just outside Denver, took the Women’s and Mixed Doubles. Oh, yes, she was good—at 10 and already smacking in forehands, she was reported to have won Poland’s Girls Under 14 Championship. Turns out she’d started playing in her native country at age 7, and had been living in the Denver area since 1970. (Photo #2) And see, just a few weeks later, what a model leader she is for her USOTC Team.
At the Sept., 1973 $5,000 Kansas City Invitational, Kasia twice upset the soon-to-be U.S. Girls Under 15 Champion Diana Myers. A fun weekend (Photo #3) young Miss Dawidowicz had, for, in addition to playing, she liked traveling over from Colorado—enjoyed seeing different things (from cows to courthouses) and meeting different people. “How do I know what kind of people there are unless I meet them?” she said, pixie-like.
(Photo # 4) Kasia began her dominance of U.S. Girls play by winning the 1975 Houston U.S. Open Under 13’s from Defending Champion, Canada’s mini-superstar Gloria Nesukaitis. At the Nov., 1975 $3,000 Detroiter tournament in Oklahoma City, father Bob affably takes out a compact mirror, says he hasn’t got a racket, but with a 15-point start might play someone not too good for a small wager. Of course they wouldn’t let him enter the $100-1st-prize A’s. Fourteen-year-old Kasia, meanwhile, is movin’ on. Says she likes to run…and ride a motorcycle.
Kasia admits she sometimes gets mixed up trying to straighten out her Polish and English. But there sure wasn’t anything mixed up about her judgment or her playing here in Oklahoma. She got Danny Seemiller for a partner in the Mixed and they never lost a game; and she beat both her male rivals to win the 15’s. Two weeks later she won 7 titles at the Colorado Closed. After which (Photo # 5) Denver KOA-TV filmed her in an exhibition aired on “Scope,” a regular Sunday night program.
Kasia was selected for the 1976 U.S. Open Women’s Team and played against South Korea and India. That summer, 10 candidates (boys and girls) were in the running for a chance to go to Japan for training. First pick by the USTTA Coaching Committee was…yep, Kasia—but, likely because of a Japanese gender preference, the 2nd and 3rd choices, both boys, were sent instead. Kasia, however, was again on the move—opted to take a leave of absence from school, and, with her good luck stuffed bear, “Koyo,” for intimate company, she went off to Columbus, Ohio to train with our country’s best, former South Korean stars Insook Bhushan and He-ja Lee, both of whom would subsequently stop Kasia in the semi’s of the National’s.
That Dec., the USTTA began holding its U.S. Closeds—and Kasia (Photo # 6) after winning the Under 15’s at the Philadelphia U.S. Open, continued to impress us in Vegas. There she won the 15’s, as well as the 17’s and Women’s A’s (Photo #7) though twice pressed by Faan Yeen Liu (seen here on the left with her runner-up trophy). Since the USTTA decided to select the 4th player on the Women’s Team to the ’77 Birmingham World’s, Bobby Gusikoff wrote in his Topics column that, though Kasia didn’t finish 4th in the Trials, they should certainly have picked her, for, at 15, showing great promise, she very nearly won three big swing matches—lost to Alice Green, 26-24 in the 3rd; lost to Judy Bochenski, 22-20 in the 3rd; lost to Olga Soltesz, 21-19 in the 3rd.
And—wow—talk about promise (“I never saw anyone so young who was so serious about her play,” said Team Captain Houshang Bozorgzadeh). And talk about 100% dominance. In her remaining Junior years, Kasia will win another U.S. Open Girls Under 15; the 1977 U.S. Open and Closed Under 17 Singles and Doubles; the 1978 U.S. Open and Closed Under 17 Singles and Doubles; and, as her eligibility finally runs out, the 1979 U.S. Open Under 17 Singles and Doubles. Include a unique U.S. Open Jr. Mixed Doubles—and that’s an unprecedented nineteen U.S. Open/U.S. Closed Junior titles in all.
Kasia’s described as having a “slow, spinny loop,” a [hard] flat-hit against “a push to her forehand,” and a “steady, controlling backhand.” With this varied game—and (Photo #8), hey, she can push too—a new title comes her way. (Photo #9) She, Insook, and Judy Bochenski win the $1,000 1st-place Women’s U.S. Open Team Championship. Here, as they discuss strategy, it’s apparent that Insook’s got Kasia’s attention and respect.
By the 1977-78 season, the 16-year-old Dawidowicz has her U.S. citizenship, and is faced with a new option: she can have free tennis lessons and from a good coach. But she continues on with table tennis, and at the Closed is pleased to have another first (Photo #10)—the Women’s Doubles with Insook.
At the ’78 CNE (she’d clean houses in the Denver area to pay her travel expenses to Toronto), she beat the #1 Canadian, Mariann Domonkos, in the Team’s, and won another Women’s Doubles with Insook. Then (Photo # 11) she really took off—was a member of the U.S. Team that went to Seoul for the Korea-Germany-USA Invitational Goodwill Women’s Games. Kasia also got to see Pusan, Panmunjon, and spend a couple of days in Tokyo. Indeed, prior to the ’78 U.S. Closed, Kasia trained in Japan, and as a result gave the eventual winner Insook, whom she had down two-zip in the semi’s, a 5-game scare (Photo #12)—looks ferocious, doesn’t she.
In the Trials that followed to determine the U.S. Women’s Team to the ’79 Pyongyang World’s, Kasia was taking pills from a doctor for her stomach problems (read nerves?). But she won 3 close matches, not only by (Photo #13) looping, but by (Photo #14) flat-hitting—over U.S. Intercollegiate Champ Sheila O’Dougherty, over upset-minded Leslie Harris, and over Faan Yeen, 23-21 in the 3rd after Faan Yeen had been repeatedly faulted to tears. This huge swing match eventually allowed Kasia to be selected as the 4th member of the Team. Now she was off to Poland to practice, after which she hoped to accompany the Polish Team to North Korea; but this involved so much red tape she had to give it up. In Pyongyang, Insook and He-ja took over the Team ties, but Kasia acquitted herself well in Singles and Doubles with a 6-3 record. Visiting China with the Team and its entourage for several days on this trip also had to be an unusual and memorable experience for her.
At the ’79 U.S. Open, Kasia lost to Sweden’s Lena Waller in the Team’s, but then defeated her in the final of the 17’s. A few months later at the CNE, she teamed with Danny Seemiller to reach the final of the Mixed where they lost a gutsy 23-21-in-the-4th match to the French World Champions, Jacques Secretin/Claude Bergeret.
At the ’79 Closed, she had another first—won the Mixed with 16-year-old Eric Boggan over two strong teams—Danny and Faan Yeen, then D-J and He-ja Lee. In the accompanying ’79 Team Trials, which neither Insook nor Heja played in, Kasia came 2nd to O’Dougherty, and next thing you knew (Photo #15) she was being featured in a Harvard Advisory Staff ad in Topics. That’s l. to r. Danny Robbins, George Brathwaite, and Houshang.
After that, Kasia was Kasia Dawidowicz Gaca, and, taking a leave of absence, was without a U.S. Open or Closed title for the first time in six seasons. (Photo #16) But that was o.k.—it gave her friends and rivals a chance to shine. Here’s the ’81 Women’s U.S. World Team—l. to r.: Cheryl Dadian, Sheila O’Dougherty, Capt. Heather Angelinetta, Faan Yeen Liu, and Carol Davidson.
Then—surprise—Kasia was back, and winning the 1981 U.S. Open Team Championships with Insook and Alice Green. Shortly after that, at the National’s, sponsored now by Butterfly, she won the Women’s Doubles, again with Insook, and came in 2nd in the Mixed with Men’s Singles winner Scott Boggan.
The 1982 National Sports Festival saw Ms.Gotcha, er, Gaca, with a perfect 7-0 record lead her South Team (Olga Soltesz, Kim Gilbert, and Cindy Miller) to the Gold. However, she sure didn’t have a perfect record at the Dec., ‘82 Trials for the 1983 U.S. Team to the Tokyo World’s; incredibly 5 players were tied with 6-5 match scores for the sole last spot. Kasia prevailed on the strength of her 11-9 record in games.
At the ’83 U.S. Open, Kasia won the Women’s Under 2100, beating the U.S. Girls Under 17 Champion Diana Gee and her sister Lisa. Then she was on the move again—played in Sweden for Nisse Sandberg’s Angby Club, and was fortunate to be staying with the kind, compatible Waller family. Kasia said there were nice green parks everywhere where she could go play soccer with her 2 ½ -year-old son Michael.
Kasia and Michael joined up with father Bob at the Mar., 1984 Polish Open in Poznan. Kasia (Photo #17) won some matches there—but then got sick with the flu, as did Michael. “I was worried,” she said, “because I was sure Poland was short on medicine. Also, it bothered me that I couldn’t make a phone call out of the country and that 2 out of every 3 telegrams I sent, or that were sent to me, were never received. Gas was rationed. There was a water shortage—no water after midnight. Vodka was very expensive—a liter cost almost 1/5 of an average worker’s monthly pay. There were long grocery lines. And though this is “a 90% Catholic country,” said Kasia, “it’s my impression that a neighbor will sell a neighbor here for a dime. It’s the law of the jungle here—self-survival.”
Back in the States, Kasia played in the ’84 U.S. Closed. And for a Major finish to her career in the U.S. (for many years to come she’ll be playing in Sweden), she not only was a finalist in Women’s Doubles with Dadian, but, despite a swing loss to Takako Trenholme, was almost selected for the U.S. Team to the Gothenburg World’s. (Photo # 18). Here’s a blonde Kasia with Takako and Houshang celebrating Eric Boggan’s ’84 U.S. Closed win.
More than 20 years ago, Kasia looked to her future. (Photo #19) Whatever her experience, and wherever it would take her (she’d marry again, have a daughter who’s with her tonight), she sure looks ready here in her youth to assert her independence…to survive. Please welcome that strong-willed girl, junior, woman, whom we remember and honor tonight. Ladies and Gentlemen, Kasia Dawidowicz.