Dave Sitton, a onetime UA baseball player who became the voice of Arizona football and basketball on television, Tucson’s preeminent emcee and a candidate for congress, has died of a heart attack. He was 58.
Sitton was taken to Tucson Medical Center early Monday and died shortly thereafter, friends said.
Sitton called UA football and basketball games from 1990-2012. He won the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Emmy Award for basketball play-by-play in 2010 and football in 2011. As the UA’s longtime club rugby coach, Sitton worked tirelessly to promote the sport in Southern Arizona. He coached the Wildcats to the Rugby Sevens championships tournament in Philadelphia, Pa., earlier this summer.
Former UA basketball star Bob Elliott, who teamed with Sitton on Wildcats basketball broadcasts, said Sitton “was energy.” The two first met in 1973, when they were assigned to the UA’s Graham Hall.
“Dave definitely understood that life is about giving,” he said. “If you’ve been blessed, than you help others.”
And Sitton did.
He ran in a Republican special primary to replace former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2012, but received just 17 percent of the vote in an election won by Jesse Kelly. Republican party chairwoman Carolyn Cox said she will remember Sitton as a positive and uplifting leader.
Sitton was best known locally for his charity involvement. He was a member of the Tucson Conquistadores, and a popular choice to emcee local charity events. He also served on the board of the Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority. The Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce named Sitton its Man of the Year in 2006.
Having known Sitton not only as a basketball broadcaster, but also as a cancer patient and director of marketing for the UA Cancer Center, former Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson marveled at Sitton’s positive energy.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in Tucson that did as much for charity as what Dave did,” Olson said. “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. … He’s a great guy and I think the community will really miss him.”
He was a “tireless advocate of youth, amateur and professional sports,” said Tom Tracy, former chair of the Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority.
“It came from his involvement as an athlete, coach and broadcaster, and as a resident and a businessman. He saw the benefit of sports to the entire community from a perspective that was unique.”
Said UA athletic director Greg Byrne: "Few people have touched so many in our community like Dave. His contributions to Arizona athletics, the University of Arizona, and the Tucson community are immeasurable. He impacted so many lives through his tireless work with various organizations and was a positive influence for anyone who had the opportunity to spend time with him. His passion, personality and presence will be sorely missed but never forgotten."
Sitton grew up in Southern California, and came to Tucson to play baseball at the UA. Sitton switched to rugby when his career was scuttled by injuries. He graduated from the UA in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. Three years later, he began his broadcasting career as the radio voice of the Wildcats’ baseball team.
Sports was just one of Sitton’s many passions. A musical devotee and amateur singer, Sitton belted out Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife” at charity events. Elliott said Sitton “knew The Temptations, and all the Motown songs.”
“I remember one time, we had a game at Texas, and (afterwards) we were just walking down Sixth Street singing all the Motown songs,” he said. “I was surprised we didn’t get arrested.”
Sitton met The Beach Boys before their concert at AVA Amphitheater in April 2012, fulfilling a lifelong dream.
On Sunday evenings in early fall and late spring, you could find Sitton at Reid Park, sitting among thousands of people enjoying the Tucson Pops concerts.
Pops Music Director László Veres said Sitton had led the Pops Board of Directors for around 30 years and was chiefly responsible for scaring up funding when the city cut back in recent years.
“He was, in my book, Mr. Pops,” Veres said. “He was the one who got the money so that we could keep going.”
Sitton was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in 2005, at age 50. Sitton would sit in a bath for four hours each night just to ease the pressure on his organs, he told the Star in 2005. Sitton would rotate between listening to Monty Python comedy CDs and watching the History Channel, “so it was either Hitler or Eric Idle,” Sitton said.
Sitton’s death was unexpected: He and Elliott went to lunch at a local Chinese restaurant last week to talk about a book project. Elliott said Sitton felt fine.
“He was just … Dave,” Elliott said. “He had a lot of friends and he touched a lot of people and he loved a lot of people. What more could you ask of your life?”
Sitton is survived by two adult daughters, Olivia and Blakeney. Services are pending.
Star reporters Cathalena E. Burch and Bruce Pascoe contributed to this story.
Read more in Tuesday’s Arizona Daily Star.