over fifty years the Red Towel has been synonomous with
Western Kentucky University athletics. The
tradition that began with the legendary E. A. Diddle
is still observed by thousands of Hilltopper fans every
year. At sporting events across campus it is still common
to see fans clutching and waving the Red Towel as they
cheer their Toppers on to victory.
Originally, it was a just common white towel which Coach Diddle would clutch, wave, and throw on the sidelines. However, it wasn't until the towel became red that the legend began, and the story of how the color evolved is quite humorous. During the postwar years of the 1940's a problem developed among athletes and students who had returned to the school after serving in the war. Many had picked up the bad habit of taking t-shirts and towels whenver the urge hit them and this quickly snowballed into an epidemic. As a result, Coach Diddle went to Ed Stansbury, the head of the P. E. Dept. at the time, and stated that something had to be done to solve the problem because there was now concern that there wouldn't be enough clean towels available for the athletes. Stansbury decided to call the laundry which had the contract to launder the towels and request that they dye the towels red after they were cleaned.
This was done as requested but the dye used was not permanent and after showering the user was left conspicuously "red-faced", and the towels themselves faded to a weak purple color. Therefore, to solve this new problem Stansbury then called the Cannon Towel Co. to inquire about a manufactured "Red Towel". An agreement was reached and the "permanent" Red Towel came into existence. The legend had begun!!
It wasn't long afterwards that Diddle and his towel captured the attention of not only the local media but the national media as well. No matter where the team went everyone wanted to see the coach go to work with his towel, and Diddle being the showman he was was glad to oblige. He would throw it to the rafters, beat it on the floor, chew it, wave it, twist it, and even cry into it! George Barker from the Nashville Tennessean described these various actions and interpreted their meanings as such:
in the air:
Pure climatic joy.
Whirled overhead: Satisfaction and high expectation.
Slapped violently on the floor: Extreme disappointment with players or referee.
Twisted or braided: Outcome doubtful.
Chewed: Outcome VERY doubtful
Used to shield the eyes: Horror or Shakesperian-like dismay.
night in the 1950's during a game with hated OVC rival
Murray State a Murray fan rushed by the Western
bench and made off with one of the towels. Kelly Thompson,
who would later become president at WKU, had to
restrain Diddle from dashing off in pursuit of
the thief. The coach yelled to Thompson, "Hell,
Kelly, he's got one of our red towels!" Such
was the importance of the red towel to Diddle and WKU
athletics. In the years following his retirement in
the 1960's, the old coach would always show up in newly
built E.A. Diddle Arena and lead cheers with his precious
red towel. After his death in 1970, in honor of the
late coach, a wreath was placed in front of the box
where Diddle always sat inside the Arena. There,
a single seat was left empty except for one item.....a Red