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Jack Riggs, longtime voice of Michigan racing, dies

February 11, 2009

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Jack Riggs, the longtime voice of racing at Hazel Park and Northville Downs in Michigan, died Friday, Feb. 6, at the age of 79. Mr. Riggs retired from an announcing career that spanned six decades in 2003 and moved with his wife, Nancy, to their home in Englewood, Fla.


Mr. Riggs also announced Thoroughbred races at several tracks across the country and in Canada as well as Greyhound races. He was instrumental in the first TV show broadcast from a Michigan racetrack in the 1950s. He later pioneered the nightly replay show from Hazel Park and Northville which was seen on the Pro Am Sports System managed at the time by his good friend, Bill Wischman.


Mr. Riggs\' distinctive announcing style was highly regarded by racing fans in Michigan and across the country--he often stated his view that an announcer should focus attention on the races, rather than on himself, and should act as a reporter, rather than an entertainer.

Mr. Riggs was born Sept. 28, 1929 in Glendale, W.V., a suburb of Wheeling, to Cecil H. Riggs, a lawyer, and Charlotte Cunningham Riggs, a nurse. Cecil died when Mr. Riggs was only two years old, and thereafter he spent several happy years living in Westin, W.V., with the family of a beloved aunt. After his mother remarried Edward C. Raffetto, Mr. Riggs and his sister, Nancy, and brother, Edward, traveled with their parents for periods in Massachusetts, South Carolina, China, the Philippines and Rhode Island, as required by his stepfather\'s duties as a career naval officer.   

Mr. Riggs began announcing when, while working as a part-time reporter for the Asbury Park Press during high school, he met and impressed Horace Wade, an influential publicity man in the racing industry and Wade asked him to take over a half-hour radio show recorded at Monmouth Park Raceway, New Jersey.  By age 19, before he was old enough to attend the races as a patron, Riggs was hired as the announcer at Gulfstream Park in Florida.  

Mr. Riggs took time away from announcing to serve in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. Serving as a naval control tower operator in San Diego, California, his life changed when he met and fell in love with a young figure skater named Nancy Scovel. Mr. Riggs married Nancy and brought her to Florida, where he had resumed his announcing duties at Gulfstream Park after being honorably discharged from the Navy.   

Over the course of a career that spanned more than 50 years, Riggs called races at tracks in seven states and Windsor, Ont., and appeared on TV and radio for ABC\'s Wide World of Sports, NBC, CBS, Mutual Broadcasting Company, PASS, and many other radio and television stations across the country. Mr. Riggs spent most of his career in the Detroit metropolitan area, calling Thoroughbred races at Detroit Race Course and Hazel Park Race Course and harness races at Hazel Park, DRC, and Northville Downs.
Mr. Riggs is an honorary lifetime member of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association, the highest individual honor the association bestows. It was just a few years ago the Mr. Riggs was honored by the Michigan Harness Horsemen\'s Association with an Appreciation Award for his years of dedication to racing in the state.


Beside his wife, Nancy, Mr. Riggs is survived by a daughter, Debra (Jim) Bonamici; a son, Jack (Lori) Riggs; and grandfather of Peter and Nicolas Bonamici and Emily and Ryan Riggs.
In addition, Mr. Riggs is survived by his dear sister, Nancy (Lawrence) Beaubien; and brother, Edward (Lisa) Raffetto; and cherished cousins, nieces, nephews and friends.

A memorial service will be held at St. Mark\'s Episcopal Church, 508 Riviera St., Venice, Fla. at 11 a.m. March 27. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association Grant Fund (Jack was a proud honorary lifetime member of the DSBA), P.O. Box 1222, Warren, Mich. 48090 or the American Heart Association.

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