by Scott Kindberg
December 8, 2014
‘We’ve been Blessed’
He does pour some ketchup on the burger, but that is as wild and crazy as The Post-Journal sports editor is going to get with his meal. Outside of a good pizza – and Riggs loves his pizza like no one I’ve ever known – he errs on the side of caution when it comes to his food selection.
Besides, why mess with a good thing?
A native of East Liverpool, Ohio, Riggs is a passionate golfer, a loyal fan of the Pittsburg Pirates, the Pittsburg Penguins and the Tennessee Titans, and a devoted husband, father and grandfather. That has never changed as long as I’ve known him.
Oh, yes and he’s been in The Post-Journal’s employ since 1975 and the newspaper’s sports editor since 1979. About the only place he’s had a longer association is about a two-minute drive from his front door.
We know it as Jamestown Community College. Riggs could actually call it a second home.
Last Friday night, just after the JCC women’s basketball team turned back Lorain County CC, Riggs was presented the Tom D’Angelo Memorial Spirit Award by Coach George Sisson and Keith Martin, athletic director.
“I hit this one out of the park, to be quite honest,” Sisson told me earlier in the day. “I couldn’t have picked a better recipient.
Riggs joined previous honorees Dr. & Mrs. Brent Deuink, Martin, and Mr. and Mrs. Jim Rissel, all area residents who have gone above and beyond in support of women’s hoops on campus.
But, with all due respect to those folks, I’m sure there wouldn’t be an argument when I suggest that nobody has done, or will likely ever do more for promoting/supporting Jayhawks sports than Riggs has done for last four decades.
“Jayhawks athletics wouldn’t be what it is today without Jim Riggs. Bar none” Martin said. “because Jayhawks athletics has been in the forefront of The Post-Journal for 35 years. We could not do what we do and our athletes could not have gotten the recognition they’ve gotten without Jim Riggs.”
A JCC graduate who once took photos for the college, Riggs joined The Post-Journal sports staff and eventually took over the JCC men’s basketball beat for the 1975 season. That was in the Nick Creola era where the Jayhawks’ gym was in what is now the Student Union. Along the way, Riggs made four trips to the men’s NJCAA Division I national tournament with the team and also wrote and photographed countless games before standing-room-only crowds at their current home, the Physical Education Complex.
“When I started at the Journal, Nick said to me that I had big shoes to fill, because (former Post-Journal sportswriter) Steve Corey had done all this coverage of Nick’s team,” Riggs recalled. Let’s just say that Riggs aced the exam.
“I’ve known that he followed the Jayhawks since I was Little,” Martin said. “when I’d go to the games in the “70s in the old gym, they used to show the game in the cafeteria, because you’d have to get there at 5:30 or 6 o’clock for a 7:30 game. The overflow went into the cafeteria and they had closed-circuit TV to watch the games. “Jimmy was there for all that.”
Riggs has been ”there” for just about anything related to JCC basketball.
“He traveled everywhere with them,” Martin said. “He didn’t miss a game. At the end of the first era of Jayhawk basketball in the 1980’s - and I was there at the very end as an athlete – he went to every game, whether it was home of away. He was there in the van with us.”
But Riggs was also “there” for the Jayhawks other sports, notebook and camera at the ready.
In the last four decades he has covered everything from wrestling to golf, from baseball to swimming, providing the kind of media attention that few junior colleges in the country receive.
Martin especially appreciates what Riggs has done for the women’s basketball program, which he coached for years before assuming the athletic director job.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we started getting more local talent to stay and build our program because of the articles he wrote about us,” Martin said. We would not get it anywhere else. You’re lucky you get a box score at any other paper. Our kids are on the front page with a photo. We’ve been blessed.”
Now it’s time to return some of those blessings and prayers in Riggs’ direction.
As we close out the year, Riggs won’t be disappointed to turn the calendar to 2015. To say that this year has been difficult for the 64-year-old would be an understatement. First it was a dislocated left shoulder he suffered in a fall at Ralph Wilson Stadium after the section VI Class AA football championship game in November 2013. After a grueling rehabilitation he was able to get back to his passion – golf – by late spring.
Unfortunately, his weekday visits to Chautauqua Golf Club didn’t last very long and by mid-August he received the news that he was suffering from plasma cell leukemia. Since then Riggs has been undergoing treatment at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo. That has required multiple commutes for chemotherapy – some stays have been for as long as a week - and blood work.
Early this week he’ll return to Roswell but this time his stay will be much longer because he’ll be the recipient of a bone marrow transplant on Dec. 16. The post-op care will require that Riggs and his wife Sharon will have to stay in Buffalo for months likely until the end of March or early April.
For anyone who knows Riggs however his response to the diagnosis and subsequent transplant isn’t the least bit surprising.
“Whatever I have to do,” he said, “I just do it, whatever the next step is. The main thing is I make sure I don’t look at Google and look up anything (online). When I’m told I have this appointment or this procedure. I just say, ‘OK. I’ll be there.’ I don’t sit and dawdle about it. There’s nothing you can do.”
This fall was the first season in decades that Riggs did not cover the Jamestown High School football team. As everyone knows the Red Raiders ended their season nine days ago by claiming their fourth state championship in the program’s history.
Their journey began on Aug. 18, the first official day of practice and set in motion an amazing four-month odyssey that ended with the ultimate gridiron victory. Ironically, Riggs learned of his diagnosis on Aug. 18, which set in motion a different kind of odyssey that will continue into the New Year.
To let Riggs know you’re thinking about him, might I suggest you send a card or an email to The Post Journal sports department in care of Riggs. I’ll be sure that he gets them.
“It’s nice to know you’re being thought of,” Riggs said .