Dave Sitton, the voice of rugby as the sport sought to break into American television, has expired of a heart attack.
Cheerful and naturally curious, the 58-year-old pursued an unusually wide set of activities, from coaching his beloved University of Arizona to managing the All Americans to calling play by play. Remarkably, Sitton's adopted hometown of Tuscon, where he was an award-winning sportscaster and ran for Congress, will remember rugby as but one of many interests. His special trait was to breathe life into matters with a common touch.
Arriving on campus a catcher, Sitton found his baseball aspirations checked by injury and so became an all-star fullback and then, in 1979, player-coach of the school as well as co-founder (in 1980) of the Tuscon Magpies senior team. His college footprint alone is extraordinary: Despite operating from remote southern Arizona, he rolled up 399 wins and a .641 winning percentage, producing All-Americans in each of four decades, a half dozen 7s Eagles, and a full international in Al Lakomskis.
In an era when member unions elected USARFU's board democratically, Sitton was a director while still in his 20s. In 1990, he started a decade's work as manager and assistant coach of the fledgling All-Americans. Needless to say, all of his efforts were voluntary.
'One of the true partners in building American rugby and in particular the university game, his will be impossibly big shoes to fill, not only at the University of Arizona but within our [PAC Rugby] conference and nationally. Truly a one of a kind guy, best of the best', observed Jack Clark, his rival at Cal and colleague with the All Americans and US national team.
Meanwhile, in 1981, Sitton embarked on a distinguished career as play-by-play man for the Wildcast baseball, football, and basketball teams, including the years of Lute Olson's Pac 10 and national championship hoop squads. Sitton possessed extended, ringside perspective into major college athletics, and saw athletics as a catalyst for community service.
Broadcast was also Sitton's highest-profile rugby work, a litany of firsts. He called the inaugural World Cup in 1987, the Pacific Rim Championship in the 1990s and 2000s, and the present USA 7s and Collegiate Rugby Championship. Much of the time he was alongside Brian Vizard, the former USA number eight and captain, now executive director of the US Rugby Football Foundation, where Sitton was a director.
Considered Tuscon's preeminent master of ceremonies, Sitton led the Tuscon Pops Orchestra for many years and served on any number of civic boards including the University of Arizona Steele Children’s Research Center, the Tuscon Airport Authority, the Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority, and the Diocese of Tuscon Catholic Foundation. The Chamber of Commerce, the Boy Scouts, and the Marines Corps, among others, honored his work.
'I don’t think there’s anybody in Tucson that did as much for charity as what Dave did', Olson told the Arizona Daily Star. 'He was always the kind of guy that if you needed something, you could call Dave, and he’d know somebody who could help you get things done'.
Diagnosed with lymphoma in 2005, Sitton rallied to run for Congress in 2012, losing in the primaries. He had not lost any zest for rugby, recently telling Vizard he wanted to 'discuss some new ideas'. To the end, his phone number and email were posted on the school's rugby page, encouraging of all.
Dave Sitton is survived by two daughters.