It’s been a rough and emotional week in the Ozarks-area sports community with the news of Art Hains’ dire medical situation. For most, we’ve dealt with it privately and out of public view.
Corey Riggs didn’t have that luxury last Saturday. Riggs filled in for Hains as the play-by-play man of Missouri State’s home football game against South Dakota State. He’s on the call again this weekend as the Bears go to North Dakota.
Riggs had pinch-hit for his friend several times before, when Hains had conflicts and couldn’t be in two places at once. Examples include Missouri State football and basketball games on the same day and the overlap of Bears’ basketball and baseball seasons.
An emotional day in the booth
But filling in for his friend and mentor was entirely different this time. No matter how much he prepared, how much he treated it as a professional duty, nothing prepared Riggs for the emotions he felt in the booth at Plaster Stadium as Hains was waging a fight for his life a few miles away at Cox Medical Center.
“To be honest, I didn’t feel like I did a very good job last Saturday,” Riggs said on Wednesday. “It was very difficult. I definitely felt out of place. It’s probably one of the hardest things professionally that I’ve had to do.
“This week I’m trying to get myself ready to get on a plane and go to Grand Forks, North Dakota. I need to be better. That’s how I feel about it. I don’t want to let him down.”
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Hains showing some improvement
The good news is that Hains, now at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City after a diagnosis of West Nile Virus, has shown some improvement over the last few days. The man so many of us love and admire for his vast broadcasting talents and more for his Hall of Fame friendship, has a long road ahead — but few doubt he will win this battle.
Hains is the biggest Kansas City Royals fan I know. That demands toughness. Don’t bet against him being at Kauffman Stadium for opening day 2023.
Riggs is encouraged by the recent news and he smiles at the outpouring of support from the community toward Art and the Hains family.
“I moved to Springfield in the fall of ’93 as a student,” Riggs said. “That’s when I first started hearing Art on the radio as a student at then-SMS. He is, to my knowledge and my experience and circle of friends and co-workers … he is the only person I’ve met in Springfield that’s universally loved and respected.
“I’ve never heard a person with a bad thing to say about Art Hains.”
Saying no to nursing school, yes to broadcasting
Riggs is in his 25th year as Senior Production Manager for Mediacom. He began his career behind the scenes before going in front of the camera for on-air duties. His road to the microphone wasn’t in the plans when he graduated from Webb City High School to attend Missouri State.
Nursing school was his original plan with the goal of becoming an anesthesiologist.
“Probably the earliest, most mature decision I made in my life was realizing that I’m not wired for that,” Riggs said.
“I had a good friend and fraternity brother at the university. I told him I was coming back to school and not sure what I was going to do. He said, ‘You’ve got to go into sports TV, radio or something.”
A Springfield-area sports veteran
Realizing that on-air jobs were few and far between, Riggs wanted to learn as much as he could about all roles when studying mass media at Missouri State. When he went to work for Mediacom, Riggs was a camera operator, built graphics, and learned producing and directing. But he had an itch for being on-camera and calling the action.
His first opportunity came alongside Rob Evans, as he filled in for Don West on a Mediacom high school basketball telecast the night West’s daughter, Heather, was born. That was 22 years ago.
Over the years, as Riggs began to do more and more television and radio on air, Hains became a valued friend and mentor. Riggs has been a big part of Missouri State’s Valley on ESPN3 package and one of the voices for the Missouri State High School Activities Association championships along, with filling in on the Missouri State Radio Network in recent years.
Hains’ advice to an up-and-coming Riggs
Riggs said he’s asked Hains to critique his work, many times. Hains remained steadfast with one basic bit of advice.
“Everybody in our world loves and respects Art,” Riggs said. “He would remind me, ‘You have to be you. You can’t pretend to be Keith Jackson or Art Hains or Ned Reynolds or anybody. You just have to be you and call the game the way you see fit.’
“So, that’s always been one of the best things he’s told me. You can’t pretend to call the game or sound like somebody else.”
Doing his best while Hains heals
His goal now is to do the best he can until Hains puts the headset back on. Riggs, along with so many others, said it will be a celebration when that happens.
“There might be nothing short of a ticker-tape parade,” Riggs said. “He is so special to the university. Art is Missouri State athletics. I know everybody will be ready to celebrate, whether it’s the first time he’s back on Sports Talk, or from the booth of Plaster Stadium or Great Southern Bank Arena.
“Everybody will be ready to celebrate when the Voice of the Bears comes back.”