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Remembering Dave Sitton

Dave Sitton, a longtime broadcaster for University of Arizona sports and a prominent Tucsonan across many walks of life, has died at 58 from an apparent heart attack. Here is a story I wrote on Sitton for the Tucson Citizen in February 2005.

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Dave Sitton

Dave Sitton

HEADLINE: Big shot calls the shots
Feb. 24, 2005

It was the winter of 1981, on what he calls a “wet, dewy Los Angeles night,” that Dave Sitton made his introduction on Tucson radio.

He was the new voice of University of Arizona baseball, and his first assignment carried him to UCLA’s new Jackie Robinson Stadium. Exciting stuff for the 27-year-old Sitton, who grew up in southern California under the spell of Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully.

But this night for Sitton wasn’t exactly Dodger Stadium and he wasn’t exactly waxing poetic about Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and Pedro Guerrero.

Exposed to the damp weather – the press box at Jackie Robinson Stadium had yet to be built – he carried on as well as he could until the eighth inning, when his phone line died.

What’s a rookie announcer to do with all that dead air?

Remembering a pay phone on the concourse level on the third-base side, Sitton knew there was only one thing to do. He hustled over and dialed collect to KMGX-AM.

“That pay phone had a view of home plate, which is a pretty rare thing,” Sitton said. “I finished the game on that phone. And then the game goes 14 innings. Arizona wins it with a homer. After it was over, I said if I can handle this, I’ll be fine.”

• • •

No person in Tucson is more in need of a bio sheet – and, perhaps, sleep – than Dave Sitton.

He has a day job – he’s the southern Arizona vice president for media conglomerate Clear Channel Communications.

He has a wife, Spencer.

He has two teenage daughters, Olivia and Elizabeth.

He has a passion – he’s in his 27th season as coach of the UA club rugby team.

He is the ultimate man about town: He’s the chairman of the Tucson Pops Orchestra, a life member of the Tucson Conquistadores, the secretary of the board of directors for the Catholic Foundation for the Diocese of Tucson and the master of ceremonies for more local events than anyone could possibly remember, even now while fighting cancer (update: Sitton did win that battle).

At various times, he has been a boxing promoter, organizer of NBA exhibition games, an assistant Arizona athletic director and the host of a local TV sports talk show.

In the interest of space, that is just a woefully inadequate, fractional accounting of his résumé.

“The biggest thing about Dave is that he knows everybody,” said Bob Elliott, Sitton’s longtime friend and Fox Sports Net Arizona broadcast partner for UA basketball games. “It’s tough to do a home game. I don’t know how he can really concentrate with everyone coming up to him.”

If you’re making a list of the three most recognizable people around Tucson, it probably reads Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson, car dealer Jim Click and Sitton.

But it is the broadcasting that gives Sitton his greatest local notoriety.

With tonight’s Arizona game at Washington State on Fox Sports Arizona, Sitton will be completing his 15th season as the television voice for UA basketball and football.

“What’s really interesting is that I can run into people all summer long and they don’t much care,” Sitton said. “But when basketball season starts, everyone wants to stop and talk. It’s amazing how much conversation it generates.”

• • •

Recruited to play baseball for coach Jerry Kindall, Sitton’s thoughts weren’t so much on broadcasting when he arrived at UA in the summer of 1973 as damaged goods.

“I blew out my arm and there are no markets for catchers who cannot throw,” Sitton said.

The rotator cuff injury – he has had four surgeries – meant that Sitton never lettered at Arizona, his baseball career over before it began. But he still had one problem.

“I had a fatal attraction to baseball,” he said.

Sitton said it was Kindall who gave him a nudge toward broadcasting, and Sitton graduated from UA in 1978 with a double major in political science and communications.

In 1981, Kent Derdivanis was the radio voice of Arizona athletics but needed to give up his baseball duties because he had gotten a job with the Milwaukee Brewers. That created a perfect local opportunity for Sitton, who preferred to do just baseball anyway.

Sitton continued his radio duties for UA baseball through the 1980s and was able to move up again because of another Derdivanis departure.

Derdivanis had returned to Tucson as the TV voice of the Cats but left in 1990 to broadcast Pittsburgh Pirates games.

Sitton was asked to take over, picking up football and basketball. That’s what he has been doing for the past 15 seasons, with the television rights having since transferred to Fox Sports Net Arizona.

“No, there was no formal training for anyone in this mess,” Sitton said with a chuckle. “You acquire experience. And over the years, I have become more mindful of the way people announce. I now divide the world into two types of announcers – those who broadcast with religious severity and intensity, and those who try to have fun.

“You can’t take these things way too seriously. To the extent that people tolerate Bob and me, we’re just trying to provide enjoyment.”

• • •

Sitton and Elliott often swap old stories on the air, having first met in 1973 in Graham Hall, where Elliott’s basketball team and Sitton’s baseball team had taken up residence on the UA campus.

Back in those days, they shared a love of “Star Trek” and a Catholic school background. In their adult lives, they stayed in touch and would become active in community service, so it was a natural pairing when Fox Sports Net Arizona brought them together in 2000.

Elliott says that not only does Sitton know everybody, he knows everything, often shouting comments and answers to talk radio when they are traveling together on the road.

“I’ve always said that if I get on one of those TV shows where they ask you questions and you can phone a friend, he’s the dude I’m calling,” Elliott said. “Dave is good for all questions.”

Because of his renown about town, Sitton is nicknamed “The Mayor” by Elliott.

Considering that Sitton, who turned 50 last month, has no plans of slowing down, couldn’t “Mayor Sitton” someday be something more than a nickname?

“Well, I live outside the city,” Sitton said.

“So he’ll buy a new house,” Elliott retorted.

For now, the political arena interests Sitton, a Republican, only as far as getting other people involved.

“I’m on a kick right now where I’m trying to encourage people over 55 that they should run for office,” he said. “My view of political office is that people should become elected officials as they serve on boards of directors around the community and things like that. I don’t believe in career politics. I think that is harmful.

“I happen to think that the talent pool of people who don’t get involved because they are wary of career politics really limits our capabilities.”

Judging by how much he crams into his life, Sitton is not a big fan of limits.

He hopes to continue doing UA telecasts, he said, “until they say there is saliva dripping down the front of your tie.”

“It’s just a joyful experience,” Sitton said. “Being about to communicate some sort of passion and joy about the competition, that’s what this whole thing should be about.”

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