With five decades of high school, college and professional sports officiating under his belt, Salisbury native David Sturm has heard it all from jeering fans and upset coaches.
However, he admits that some of the jabs aren’t all that off the mark.
“Whenever someone hollered at me that I must be blind, I always smiled inwardly because they did not know how right they were,” he said.
His vision was bad from early childhood and got worse each year, resulting in thicker and thicker glasses.
“Without glasses I was legally blind by the fifth grade,” he acknowledged. “Thankfully, that’s all changed now because of Lasik surgery.”
In May of this year, Mr. Sturm called his last balls and strikes at a Missouri state quarterfinal baseball game between Eugene and Putnam County high schools played at Versailles.
He noted that he was surprised by his lack of emotion in his final game.
“It felt like the last game of any earlier year,” he said. “I was not as emotional as I expected to be.”
After graduating from St. Joseph Catholic High School in Salisbury in 1969, Mr. Sturm attended Saint Louis University in St. Louis.
He blames his love for the great American pastime for his interest in officiating.
“I loved baseball and I thought if my playing career was to end, then I would still be able to stay in the game as an official,” Mr. Sturm told The Catholic Missourian. “So when I was a junior at Saint Louis University in the early 1970s studying for my CPA, I gave it a try, and I haven’t looked back since.”
While he says baseball is his first love, he also has decades of experience as an official with softball, football and basketball.
In his ledger, that accounts for 179 seasons of high school sports and more than 15,000 games — 11,000 of those at high school level.
He has 20 years of college baseball, as well as 15 years of college football.
Add to that a year of women’s college basketball at the NCAA Division II and III level, and that’s a lot of refereeing.
As well, Mr. Sturm has been part of more than 20 Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) high school state tournament semi and/or final games in his career.
Those postseason games are a big honor in the world of officiating, as game officials are selected by their peers.
However, he shared that one of his favorite contests he mediated was a just a regular season in 1994. He was chosen to be the referee for the first varsity football contest played between Hickman and Rock Bridge High Schools in Columbia.
“The game, its attendance and intensity was better than any college game that I ever worked,” he recalled. “It was evident when meeting with each coach individually before the game that it was not a normal night.
“The one coach was usually outgoing and humorous but on this night, he was very nervous and uptight with very little to say,” Mr. Sturm continued. “The other coach was usually very quiet and almost uptight before a game, but that night he was trying to crack jokes — unsuccessfully, I might add — and act like this was no big deal.”
Mr. Sturm added that he is grateful to God for keeping him safe all these years as he runs up and down the court or dons the umpiring gear season after season.
“Before any contest, I always said a prayer to the Lord, asking that He be with the officials and help us to make the correct calls and to not have any problems with the health or behavior of the officials, players, coaches and fans,” he related.
“For sure, I know that He heard my prayers about protecting my health, because in 50 years of doing this, I was out just once,” he said.
That hiatus was for six weeks after he got run over by a football player resulting in his arm and shoulder being broken in two places.
“Otherwise, I never missed an assignment due to injury or illness,” he noted, “only due to deaths in the family.”
Mr. Sturm has never left St. Joseph Parish in Salisbury. In fact he has been playing the organ there since he was in the seventh grade.
He is a big believer in the Church’s teaching about time, talent and treasure. With that, he has been an on-again, off-again member of the St. Joseph Parish Pastoral Council and the finance committee since 1980.
“You’d be amazed at what good things happen when you offer God your time talent and treasure,” he explained. “I might not be the best cook or carpenter but I do know a thing or two about finances and money and have been able to offer that to God and our church.”
He said he has been blessed with many wonderful relationships while living as a single man in the Church.
“The one downside to my officiating career encompassing four sports year-round, along with starting and building my own CPA practice, is that it did not leave any time for a social life or at least one that would have been fair to any possible lifelong companion,” he shared.
“Luckily, I come from a large family and my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews have let me be a bigger part of their lives than most uncles get to experience,” he said.