‘One of the best things I ever did;’ Professor reflects on cheer experience and WKU spirit

Ken Payne, a public relations professor at Western Kentucky, reminisces with his wife to when they were both cheerleaders in college. The two display cheer memorabilia and recall when Big Red was first created.

McKenna Mitchell

Standing in his office, WKU public relations professor Ken Payne picks up a small picture frame off his bookshelf. The picture in the frame features two bright-eyed young adults — Ken Payne and his now-wife Lory Payne.

This picture was the one and only WKU basketball game where the two were partners for a cheer routine after they were newly engaged.

Ken Payne has this photo to commemorate this special game, and it remains close to him to remind him of his time spent on the WKU cheer squad.

Payne’s decision to try out for the cheer squad made on a whim is part of what made his experience at WKU so impactful. When reflecting on his time as a student, Payne described his college experience as the time of his life.

As a WKU professor, Payne encourages his students to get the most out of their college experience and give back to their university by participating and creating the spirit of the Hill.

During his junior year of college, Ken Payne said he went to cheerleader tryouts out of intrigue. He also said he went because when tryouts were posted, a friend bet him he wouldn’t go for it.

By that time, Payne no longer played football, and missed being part of a team.

“He always talked about having the best place to watch the ball game,” Lory Payne said.

Ken Payne saw the tryouts as his opportunity to get back on the field. With no tumbling experience — but loads of school spirit — he made the junior varsity team. Little did he know this moment would be a turning point in his WKU experience.

“One of the best things I ever did,” Payne said. “I look back on that, and I just smile every time I think about it because the people that you meet were just so special.”

Payne spent his last years of college on the floor in Diddle Arena cheering on the women’s basketball team, or on the side of Houchens-Smith Stadium, getting fans excited for the Hilltoppers.

“We were just possessed with getting people up and out of their chair,” Payne said.

Lory Payne said Ken Payne was one of the true leaders on the squad. She said he would help other women in tryouts for the team because they knew he wouldn’t drop them during important stunts.

“He was always the rock,” Lory Payne said.

Ken Payne’s college experience on the cheer squad drew the spirit of WKU into his heart. He said he thinks students should get involved and not miss out on their own college experiences.

“Say yes a lot more than you say no,” Payne said.

During his time on the WKU cheer squad, Payne said he felt like the group was an important part of the athletic teams. Their school spirit made an impact on the team as well as the fans.

“We did something that made a difference,” Payne said.

Payne stressed the importance of taking advantage of the time students spend on the Hill. He hopes more students become engaged and experience the spirit of the Hill in the same way he once did, he said.

“Don’t miss the other half of college—by being involved, being engaged,” Payne said. “Shedding a tear when the team loses is a good thing.”

Copy Desk Chief McKenna Mitchell can be reached at mckenna. [email protected].