By Morgan Reagle
“The Red Towel Guy.”
When asked what his name was, those were the words from soon-to-be Western Kentucky University grad Brendan Ward. His answer was uniquely based on how other people would identify him, not his birth name.
And he’s OK with being the nameless Hilltopper sports fanatic. In fact, he relishes it.
“(The Red Towel outfit) makes me step out of my comfort zone. It makes me different from everyone, I don’t want to be like every other student,” Ward said. “When I put the outfit on, I get this different persona. Whatever I’m doing, I feel like people will back me.”
So what comes with the label “The Red Towel Guy?”
First, it begins with an entire outfit made out of WKU’s iconic red towel trademark. Ward is a proud owner of a cape, pants, a shirt, a hat and even a foam finger.
The tradition and legend of the red towels originated with the late coach E.A. Diddle, according to WKU’s website.
The towel had many uses for Diddle, used often to take out frustrations by biting and clutching. Other times, it was seen waving in the air to energize fans and players alike.
Ward, aware of the history, also values carrying on the tradition, one that Diddle would be proud of.
“I think (Diddle) would be proud of what I’m doing and how I’m following into his footsteps,” he said.
That tradition, founded by Diddle, evolved into Ward’s modernized take on school spirit and Hilltopper fandom.
“I had a whole bunch of towels sitting around in my room that I had collected from campus events like Master Plan,” Ward said. “I didn’t want them to just sit around and not be used, so I decided to make something useful out of them.”
Ward said that over 50 towels were hand-stitched together to create the one-of-a-kind Hilltopper garb. It all comes together as his uniform to live out the words to the school’s fight song, “Stand Up and Cheer.”
Jason Hurt, WKU student and frequent attendee of athletic events, noted the impact that a positive, active student section can make on the team.
“When the fans are into the game, that makes the team more involved,” Hurt said. “You can see a correlation in energy in the stands with results on the court.”
The evolution of the outfit began back in 2015 with the cape on its own. After a positive reception from the community and fans, he decided to go further and expand to the full set he possesses now.
“You have Big Red, and then there’s me. I’m like the second unofficial mascot of WKU,” he said.
Ward can’t count how many sporting events he’s been to, but what he enjoys most is heckling the opposing team and referees. He sees it as his duty to rile up the crowd and have students “GET HYPE,” as his cape has inscribed on it.
Often lost in the amazement of Ward’s outfit is the reminder that he is more than just “The Red Towel Guy.” Ward wants to use his platform to make a difference on campus and leave it better than he found it. Long after the final buzzer has sounded and the fans clear the stands, Ward wants to be remembered for who he is behind the sea of red.
“When I came to Western, I wanted to be unique,” Ward said. “I wanted to stand out in the crowd.”
Ward’s friends would agree that he has made a difference in his life beyond their friendship side-by-side in bleacher seats.
“Brendan makes me laugh, cry and just happy,” WKU sophomore William Naylor said. “He is just someone who cares about you and will take you out to coffee just to be able to sit down and talk.”
While Ward’s crazy personality at games has left an impact with Naylor, it’s not “The Red Towel Guy” that Naylor will remember the most.
“My friendship with Brendan means so much to me. He’s been there when I needed him most,” Naylor said. “He is truly a one of a kind guy and I will be sad to say goodbye to him in December.”
Graduation day is quickly approaching for Ward, and so does a crossroad in his life that comes with walking across the stage.
Ward hopes to move on from Bowling Green and Western Kentucky University to become a multimedia journalist. Unfortunately, that means his red towel outfit will no longer be in use and must find a new home.
“I don’t want it to be sitting back at home collecting dust,” Ward said. “When new Hilltoppers and old Alumni visit, I want them to walk by and say ‘there was this one guy who made a difference in the student section and on campus.’”
Ward has aspirations to keep the memory of himself alive on campus by retiring the outfit to either the Kentucky Museum, Diddle Arena or the Augenstein Alumni Center.
“It’s a legacy. I don’t think anyone else will ever create an outfit like this again. This is something that is once-in-a-lifetime,” Ward said.
He said it has been a struggle to hear back from administration at the university, which has been frustrating for him.
Whether or not his outfit gets retired on campus somewhere is out of Ward’s control. One thing certain is the undeniable mark he has left on his university and acquaintances.
“I hope someone sees me and that inspires them to stand up and be different in the crowd, and not just be like all of the other students.”