David Chairs trophy copy

The 1951 graduate of Decatur Negro High School served the athletes of the Decatur area for over half a century as an umpire and official in baseball, football and softball. In his early days, Chairs starred as a catcher for the Decatur Red Sox. Later he was a member of the famous Decatur Nationals. Chairs’ baseball highlights included seeing Willie Mays play in Decatur, meeting Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson before they became stars and umpiring Calhoun games involving future major leaguers Gary Redus and Jorge Posada. He was also a member of the famed Decatur Rough Riders football team.

Legend on area ballfields

David Chairs loved being in the middle of action as a player, coach and umpire

By David Elwell
The Decatur Daily

If you played baseball or softball or football in Morgan County between 1955 and 2010, there’s a good chance David Chairs was either an umpire or official for one of your games.

That’s what can happen when one person embarks on a 55-year career where love of the game was the guiding force in becoming a fixture on area ball fields.

“When I played baseball I was a catcher.  I loved being in the middle of all the action,” said Chairs, who turns 93 in June. “So before I finished playing, I decided to be an umpire. I could move just a few steps back and still be in the middle of all the action.”

Chairs grew up in northwest Decatur and graduated from what was then Decatur Negro School in 1951.

“I played basketball in high school, but we didn’t have a gym so we played outside,” Chairs said. “We didn’t have a baseball team and I didn’t play football because I had to work in the fall picking cotton to earn money for my family. Yes, I picked a lot of cotton.”

The summer months gave Chairs the opportunity to compete on the baseball field. He joined the Decatur Red Sox as a shortstop, but eventually moved to catcher. One of the Red Sox best pitchers was Chairs’ brother Clifford.

“I wouldn’t catch him because he didn’t like the pitches I called,” Chairs said.

The Red Sox traveled for games around North Alabama and even ventured out of state. Towns in Mississippi were routine destinations.

“We got $1 for every home run we hit,” Chairs said. “One weekend in Mississippi I got $7 for my 7 home runs. That was a lot of money in those days.”

A few years later, Chairs became a fixture with the Decatur Nationals, who were another team famous for providing summer entertainment for the community.

Northwest Decatur lies north of Alabama 24 or Moulton Street in Decatur. Just south of Alabama 24 is the community of Moulton Heights. Northwest Decatur has been predominantly Black. The Moulton Heights area has been predominantly white. The love of sports, particularly baseball, broke down community barriers.

“Both communities had a lot in common. Nobody had much of anything,” said Harry Knop, who grew up in Moulton Heights. “Baseball would bring us together. I remember when I was 10 years old and going to see the Decatur Nationals play. I got to be their bat boy.

“That’s when I first met David Chairs. People would tell stories about him from when he was younger. If he had been born 20 or 25 years later, he could have been one of the area’s most tremendous athletes.”

After David married Bernice and their daughters Lisa, Tina and Donna came along, officiating games became a way to supplement the Chairs’ family income. He umpired baseball games in high school and college from 1955-2000. He did softball games in high school and recreation leagues from 1974-2010. His football officiating career lasted from 1980-1995.

“He umpired some of my softball games and you never would have known he was my Dad,” daughter Tina said.
Tina Chairs would have a star basketball career at Austin High and then in college at Tennessee-Chattanooga.

“He was always encouraging when I played basketball,” Tina said. “He would always remind me that free throws are free and I needed to take advantage of them.”

Chairs excelled when he played baseball. He continued to excel in the sport when he was an umpire.

“David just had a special relationship with everyone at the ballpark,” Decatur’s Mike Jones said. “Because he played the game, he was able to anticipate and be in the right spot on every play.”

Eventually Chairs moved his way up to working college baseball games at Calhoun Community College, Athens State and Alabama A&M.

“He was a really great umpire behind the plate and on the bases,” retired Calhoun baseball coach Fred Frickie said. “He was always fair and never a homer.”

Working college games for 32 years allowed Chairs to see some future major league stars in action. Two of the best he saw were Tanner’s Gary Redus at Calhoun and Athens State. Redus played 13 years in the major leagues.

Jorge Posada from Puerto Rico played two years at Calhoun before embarking on a professional career that would carry him to the New York Yankees where he played on four World Series champions.

Redus and Posada were not the first young players destined for greatness that Chairs saw play. He was a youngster at Decatur’s Legion Field when Willie Mays played outfield for the visiting Birmingham Black Barons.

When Chairs was in the Army he saw a young Jackie Robinson playing in the minors before he broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Then there was the young Hank Aaron who played in Decatur as a member of the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns.

It’s been an amazing career for an amazing man.

“I’ve been blessed,” Chairs said.

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