A personal history with the famous red towel

Price Wilborn, Commentary writer

When E.A. Diddle waved his red towel during his time as WKU’s men’s basketball coach, he couldn’t have imagined the impact it would have on the school. He couldn’t have imagined the impact it has had on me, either.

I visited WKU for the first time in middle school and loved the campus. I remember thinking “I might want to go here someday.” At the time, though, I didn’t understand the towel and why it was such a big deal. The towel was a foreign concept to me.

This continued well into the time I began touring colleges my senior year of high school. WKU was my first college tour. In the “swag bag” that I received, I found a red “Hilltopper Family” towel. Even then, I didn’t quite understand it. I thought, “why would they give us a towel?”

It wasn’t until several months later, when I was accepted into the Mahurin Honors College, I began to realize the significance of the towel. I found an MHC towel enclosed in my package. This was the first towel that really meant something to me. I was going to be a part of the MHC, and I had a towel to show for it.

During M.A.S.T.E.R. Plan week, President Caboni spoke to the freshman class about the traditions of WKU. Of course, the towel was at the top of the list. I learned the history behind the red towels and why they’re everywhere on campus.

The red towel was the first connection I truly felt with Western Kentucky University. In the red towel was not only the school’s colors, but the honored traditions that make WKU what it is. When I waved my red towel at Topper Traditions Night, I felt pride. I was proud to be a Hilltopper. The energy in the room was unmatched. Everyone in that room was a Hilltopper, just like me.

The red towel brings the student body together in a way that nothing else can. It creates a sense of pride in all of its students. When you’re at a game, you’re not part of a fraternity or a sorority. You’re not a part of any particular clubs or other student organizations. When you’re supporting our athletes and waving the red towel, you’re simply a Hilltopper.

It has also helped me feel like I’m a part of something bigger than myself. It filled something in my heart that I didn’t know needed filling. I had school spirit in high school, but the towel has allowed me to take it to a new level.

I get excited to go to football games in a way that I never did before. I’ve never been too into football, so I never really knew what was going on while I was at games. Since I arrived at WKU, though, I’ve found myself really excited to attend the games. I’m learning the game, and it’s giving me an even greater appreciation for it and the players. I attribute that to getting excited to go and wave my towel.

My grandfather played football here at WKU in the sixties in the stadium where the Fine Arts Center and the Colonnades are located now. Several other family members of mine have attended WKU, too. The towel has connected me with them in a way that, whether they know it or not, makes me even prouder to be on the Hill. Having the opportunity to follow in their footsteps in waving the red towel and showing my Hilltopper pride means the world to me.

I’ve grown my collection of towels since arriving on campus. I have ten in total, five of which are hanging on my wall in my dorm room (including that first “Hilltopper Family” towel). I have towels for different groups I’m involved in or want to get involved in. From the MHC to Student Publications to the Fight Song, I have different towels that mean different things to me. I can’t wait to get more.

I toured two schools in my college search. When I was asked why I decided to come to Bowling Green, I answered that one college felt like a school, but WKU felt like home. This was the most important thing to me. I wanted to feel comfortable in whatever decision I made. The red towel has allowed me to feel proud and feel like a part of something, making WKU feel even less like a school and more like home. I love going back to Shelbyville, but coming back to Bowling Green already feels like coming home, too. I’ve been on the Hill for just a couple months now, but I could have never imagined the feelings I have towards this place already.

The beauty of the towel is that it may mean something totally different to you and I. Our experiences are ones that are completely unique to us. You may choose to wave your towel and grow a collection like myself, or you may be perfectly happy with just one. You and I may have differing views about the school, but the towel brings us together. It makes the student body whole in a way that nothing else can.

I truly believe that without the towel and the feelings that come with it, I would be having a completely different college experience. I truly feel like part of the Hilltopper Family in a way I never believed possible. I have so much love and pride for this school that, in all honesty, I never thought I would have. Without the towel, I don’t know what would help me show my pride and connect with all Hilltoppers, past and present. Already, the towel and the school itself have taken on a deeply personal meaning for me that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

This is my first homecoming here on the hill, and I feel honored to have the opportunity to write this piece. I’m super excited to join in the festivities. I can’t wait to stand up and cheer for dear old Western at the football game, holding and waving my red towel. I hope to see you there. Go Tops!

Commentary writer Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @pricewilborn.