In its March 1 announcement of his passing, the Hall of Fame described Sayenga as “wrestling’s foremost historian.” He was known and respected for his historical column, “The Oldest Sport,” an enduring feature in Amateur Wrestling News from 1964 to 2014 which revealed little-known facts about wrestling in the early 20th century. Sayenga was a two-time winner of Amateur Wrestling News’ Bob Dellinger Award, presented each year to the nation’s top wrestling writer, most recently in 2014.
In addition, Sayenga was chairman of the Veterans Committee of the Hall of Fame beginning with the first election of Distinguished Members in 1976.
Born in Pittsburgh on June 4, 1934, Donald A. Sayenga attended Lafayette College in northeast Pennsylvania, where participated in football, track and field, choir, and wrestling. After graduating from Lafayette with a Bachelor’s Degree in Metallurgic Engineering in 1956, Sayenga then pursued his graduate studies at Lehigh University. He took military leave in 1957 to attend the U.S. Army Ordinance School and served in the Army Reserve as an ordinance officer for eight years.
Sayenga was actively involved in wrestling in a number of ways over the course of seven decades. He wrestled heavyweight for Lafayette College, competing in the 1956 NCAA Championships, and at the Tulsa YMCA where eventual Hall of Fame Distinguished Members Terry McCann, Shelby Wilson and Doug Blubaugh trained for their gold medal-winning performances at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
In the early 1960s, Sayenga helped launch high school wrestling in Florida, and began writing “The Oldest Sport” column. A long-term resident of Bethlehem, he was active in wrestling programs in the area, particularly Lehigh University where he trained with wrestlers in the upper weights for more than two decades after his graduation, and was a familiar competitor in senior-level competition.
Sayenga wore many hats during his life. In addition to his participation in wrestling as an athlete and researcher, Sayenga had a long career as a sales executive for Bethlehem Steel’s wire rope division. His job required extensive travel, which afforded him opportunities to conduct wrestling research.
His career also led to Sayenga becoming a consultant, author, researcher and historian for two transglobal industrial trade associations: the Associated Wire Rope Fabricators, and the Wire Association International. In 2001, he received the Mordica Medal for his efforts to document the world history of wire, and in 2010 he received the History and Heritage Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers for Washington Roebling’s Father: A Memoir of John A. Roebling.
Beyond his historical wrestling writings, Sayenga also wrote for Encyclopedia Britannica and authored the book “Ellet and Roebling” which tells the story of suspension bridge pioneers Charles Ellet and John A. Roebling.
Over his long career, Sayenga earned a number of honors in wrestling and beyond. In addition to his two Dellinger Awards, Sayenga received the Order of Merit from National Wrestling Hall of Fame for his writing and research of amateur wrestling in 1993. He was also a member of the Helms Hall of Fame, the Lafayette College Hall of Fame and the Citizens Savings Athletic Foundation Wrestling Hall of Fame. In 2001, Sayenga received the Mordica Medal for his efforts to document the world history of wire, and in 2010 he received the History and Heritage Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers for “Washington Roebling’s Father: A Memoir of John A. Roebling.”