On a brilliantly sunny day back in May, 1960, Roger Huston was watching harness racing from the wooden grandstand at the Clinton County Fairgrounds.
It wasn’t the fair races, but rather a fund-raiser for the Sertoma Club, a service organization.
All of a sudden, Huston heard his name over the loudspeakers.
“Roger Huston please come to the judges’ stand.”
While those may or may not have been the exact words used by Roger’s uncle Don Huston, the notion launched a 56-year career.
On Sunday — some 172,400 races later — Roger Huston will return to the judges’ stand to call races at the Clinton County Fairgrounds.
“I’m looking forward to coming back to Wilmington,” Huston said from his office at The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in western Pennsylvania. “That’s where it all started. That’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
Huston figures he hasn’t been to Wilmington in more than 40 years. He was slated to call races at the Clinton County Fair in 1976, but told harness racing official Bob Williams he was sending a 14-year-old Sam McKee instead. McKee has since gone on to become one of the top announcers in harness racing, Huston said.
Born and raised in Xenia, Huston took a liking to harness racing because of his uncle Don, who was an announcer at Lebanon Raceway for approximately 50 years.
“When I was a teenager, or even younger, I was going with him to Lebanon Raceway most nights of the week,” Huston said. “I just loved going to the races.”
Huston graduated Xenia High School in 1960 and enrolled at Wilmington College. He planned to become a teacher.
“In everybody’s life, you come to a crossroads,” Huston said. “You make a decision whether you are going to the left or right.”
Before he graduated XHS, though, that fateful day in May came about.
When he was called to the judges’ stand, Roger was told by Don “I have to go to the bathroom. You do the post parade,” Roger recalled.
The rest of the story, as Roger puts it, “Is he (Don) didn’t come back.”
Roger finished the day as the track announcer. He figures his uncle had planned the entire bathroom charade.
Said Roger, “He didn’t fess up but I knew what he was doing. I don’t think he wanted me to fret about it all that morning. He knew I’d be better off just throwing it at me. Don decided to throw me into the announcer’s booth without any life preserver.”
And Roger’s been swimming ever since. He called races at five county fairs that year, earning less than $500.
“I thought ‘Man, this is a way to make a living’,” said Huston, who previously carried groceries at a Xenia store for $20 a week.
So between calling races and working at Randall, Huston made it through his Wilmington College career. He worked as a sports information director at WC and for the Mid-Ohio Conference, he said. Huston graduated on a Sunday in June 1965. At the time, he fully expected to teach nine months of the year, then head to the tracks to call harness racing the other three months.
Instead, “On that Sunday afternoon, I decided to go left which took me to Lexington, Ky.,” he said, referring to his crossroads theory of life.
On the way home from Wilmington’s commencement ceremony, Huston was flagged down by his uncle Don.
“You have to call the Red Mile (a Lexington, Ky. racetrack). They need an announcer,” Roger remembers Don saying.
Roger call and “three or four weeks later” he was in Lexington calling harness races. While he started out as a substitute announcer — and worked at a radio station in Xenia as well — Roger finally became the full-time announcer in 1967.
“I’ve never worked a day in my life, I’ve always said once I started being an announcer,” Huston admits. “The hardest job I had was carrying out groceries at a grocery store.”
Huston has called races at 137 different locations, encompassing eight countries. Aside from the U.S., Huston has called races in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Australia, Wales and Ireland.
The United States Harness Writers Association inducted Huston into their Communicator’s Hall of Fame (2000) and awarded him their Proximity Award (2011). The Keystone Chapter of the USHWA inducted Huston into their Hall of Fame (2013).
And his hall of fame career began in Wilmington more than 50 years ago.
“That first race was barely passable,” he said. “But thank goodness they kept getting better every race. Every time until they went behind the gate (that day) I thought Don was going to be there. Bobby Williams told me to go ahead and call it Don isn’t going to be back.
“I have no plans to retire,” Huston said. “When I got to 100,000 races that was big. When I got to 150,000 I thought ‘Man, that was big.’ I have no idea what the final figure will be. I’m not shooting for a final figure. Whatever life gives me will be the final number.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, or on Twitter @wnjsports