Originally Published: January 27, 2004 7 a.m.
PRESCOTT – Once enveloped in the demanding, high-energy profession of U.S. postal inspector, Don May became an athletic official and used it as his extracurricular outlet.
Three decades ago May refereed softball for the first time in Chicago, shortly after marriage. His love for sports, particularly football, and a desire for camaraderie has overflowed into his athletic field work ever since.
Now May has chosen to retire from officiating following 10 years of dedication and hard work for the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA).
"I never met an official I didn't like," said May, a postal inspector of 32 years, from his Prescott home Monday. "The people out here (Arizona) have been really good in helping us maintain a high quality of officiating."
Since living in Prescott, May has developed close friendships with numerous AIA officials. He maintains ties with Russ Moore, David Hatfield, Wil Roach, and Leon Rodriguez - whom May considers both the best and "fastest" official he's worked with while here.
"I've gotten to meet a lot of people with the same interests," said May, who still labors as a parks supervisor for the City of Prescott. "The officials here have taught me a lot."
A huge fan of the pigskin, May preferred to officiate prep football and was primarily assigned to Prescott High School and Chino Valley High School games.
"Overall, I like football the best," he said. "Football (officials) are looked up to and they command respect. You don't get as many problems with coaches."
May spent 22 years as an official in his native Chicago before moving outside Los Angeles, where he was a sergeant in the Postal Police. He officiated 16-inch softball and 12-inch slow pitch for years, and umpired in a professional softball league in the 1960s and early 1970s.
May officiated high school football in Chicago for 22 years, which included time in the 52-team Chicago Public League. He was best known for his timeliness. When arriving at a venue where he was scheduled to officiate, May showed up anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour early.
While living in Chicago, May, 70, said he met former NFL referee Jerry Markbreit. He got to know Markbreit, a famous long-time football official, during his humble beginnings.
"He was my mentor. We started at the same time and our paths crisscrossed," he said.
May also officiated lower-level collegiate baseball in the '70s. In fact, he said he met Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks while Banks coached Harry S. Truman College's baseball team for a couple of years.
May moved to Prescott with his wife, Maureen, a decade ago and officiated prep football, basketball, baseball, and softball in the tri-city area until the end of 2003. He was most respected on the field for his sense of humor and admiration for sports.
Over the years May said the biggest changes he's seen in athletics are an increase in the size and strength of athletes and a greater competitiveness among coaches.
"Communicating with coaches is important," he said. "You have to tell them what's going on in a game. If a coach gets blown off, it's not good."
May originally made a retirement announcement at the beginning of last year, but he chose to take one final official's lap.
He estimates he has officiated a total of 300 games in 10 years here, from high school to Pop Warner football to recreation league. His lone brush with injury on the job came a couple years ago when he broke his left collarbone in a JV baseball game at Bradshaw Mountain High. He was out for three months.
"I've been pretty lucky," said May, adding that it takes three years for a rookie official to become good at what he or she does. "There's more to officiating than people realize. You're always under the gun."
Since his retirement from postal inspection, May writes non-fiction stories relating to his life's work and he remains an avid Chicago Bears fan.
He thanked his wife and City of Prescott Parks and Recreation employee Tish Sutherland for their continued support.
May now joins his friend Les Gross, an 80-year-old Prescott Valley resident, in the ranks of retired officials. Gross, who quit last year, officiated high school varsity and JV games with May.
"I'm in good health," May said. "It's time to hang it up and ride off into the sunset."
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