WKU athletes share what keeps them coming home to the Hill

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WKU Athletics Archive

Clarence Jackson (43) played for WKU from 1971-73 as a football and track & field athlete. His connection to WKU keeps him returning to the Hill for homecoming every year.

Lynda Eernisse, Sports reporter

Saturday, Oct. 30 marks the annual homecoming celebration for Western Kentucky University. Among the many alumni returning to the Hill for the weekend festivities will be former student-athletes Tom Bird and Clarence Jackson. 

Both Bird and Jackson lettered in football during their time on the Hill and have made important impacts on the history of WKU sports. 

Bird, a member of the Alumni W-Club on the board of directors, has been attending homecoming since graduating back in 1967. 

In 1963, when Bird started attending WKU, the university’s population was only about 2,500 students but climbed to over 6,000 by the time he graduated. 

“When I started here it was a small campus atmosphere…I just enjoyed the camaraderie of Kentucky,” Bird said. “I enjoyed the friendships I made at Western Kentucky.”

Along with the many relationships Bird made during his time on the Hill, his connection to WKU remains strong even to this day. 

Bird’s wife, two of his five daughters and one of his granddaughters also graduated from Western Kentucky in the years since Bird graduated. The Bird family has also received the prestigious Family of the Year Award. 

The combination of this and serving as a member of the alumni association solidified Bird’s mark on both the campus and the WKU community. 

“When they were in school and I was on this board, it just gave me another reason to come into town once every couple of months,” Bird said. “I graduated 54 years ago and we’ve gone to over half of the homecomings.” 

Bird and his family will be attending this year’s homecoming to see the campus he once called home and reconnect with old friends. 

“It’s my second home, it feels like home even though I’ve always lived in Ohio most of my life,” Bird said. 

Clarence Jackson, known affectionately as  “Jazz Jackson”, also shared the same feelings of reminiscence and excitement for this year’s homecoming. 

Jackson, who is also a member of the Alumni W-Club, arrived on the Hill in 1970 and graduated in 1974.

Although he is mainly known for his time as a Hilltopper, Jackson played in the NFL with the New York Jets and ran track during his college career. He also was a member of Omega Psi Phi and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. 

Jackson’s freshman year on the Hill came with several accomplishments, such as starting on the football team and serving as the anchor on the relay team for track and field. 

When looking back at his time at WKU, Jackson remembers the struggles he faced when he first arrived and how his coaches and mentors helped him persevere. 

“My freshman year was kind of tough on me,” Jackson said. “Actually, I left school a couple of times, but they managed to get me to come back. After I got myself together over the time that I was there, I really started to enjoy college.”

“Coming from a family of 10, my parents didn’t have any money for me to go to school, so athletics was the only way that I was able to even attend college,” Jackson said. 

Since graduating, Jackson has attended all but four homecomings and has visited on several occasions to watch his son, who also played football here at WKU. 

Fast forward to today and Jackson is looking forward to returning to Bowling Green for yet another homecoming to reconnect with old teammates, friends and fraternity brothers. 

Sports reporter Lynda Eernisse can be reached at [email protected]