June 13, 2000
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Jim Pickens, an outstanding athlete and long-time coach and administrator at Western Kentucky University, passed away at his home in Bowling Green today. He was 73 years old and had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease) on Dec. 31, 1999.
Pickens, who also served as head coach of the Hilltopper baseball program for 11 seasons (1966-1976), was a star in both baseball and football as a Western athlete. He was the All-Ohio Valley Conference quarterback in the OVC's first year of existence (1948) and he was a standout as a defensive back as well. And, on the diamond, he was an outstanding pitcher for the Hilltoppers. A three-year letterwinner in each sport at Western, he still holds the WKU record for passes intercepted in a game, picking off four Eastern Kentucky throws in a 14-13 Homecoming win over Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 13, 1948.
Following his career on the Hill, Pickens signed a baseball bonus contract with the Detroit Tigers in 1950. However, a shoulder injury in 1951 cut his playing career short.
He then joined the high school coaching ranks in Kentucky, where he enjoyed an outstanding career as a prep football and baseball coach -- at Elizabethtown (1952-55), Danville ('55-59), Bowling Green ('59-65) -- before returning to his alma mater in 1966 to take over the Topper baseball program.
During his stint in prep coaching, Pickens earned the Louisville Courier-Journal High School Coach-of-the-Year Award after leading his 1958 Danville High football team to a 9-0-1 record and the state championship. And, he added a state championship in baseball when he directed his 1965 Bowling Green High club to a 32-1 record. His six baseball teams at BGHS won 118 of 138 games (85.5%), and, his overall record as a high school baseball coach was 203-58 (77.8%) over a 14-year span of time. Pickens' 11 Western baseball teams (1966-76) went 180-186-4. His 1973-74 team was the first at Western to win 30 games, going 30-18-1, and his '69 club 17-11 on it's way to an OVC Western Division title.
Following his coaching days on the Hill, Pickens served as assistant director, and later director, of the campus recreation program at Western before retiring in 1989.
A native of Princeton, Ky., he was a 1945 graduate of Butler High School in Princeton. He then served in the U.S. Army in Europe (1945-46) before enrolling at Western.
Inducted into the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 1992 and the WKU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995, he is survived by his wife, Anna (a former Western cheerleader), one son, Jim, Jr., (the sports editor of the Owensboro Messenger & Inquirer), daughter-in-law Anne Lindsay, and two grandchildren (11-year-old Katie and nine-year-old Elizabeth).
Visitation will be at J.C. Kirby & Son Funeral Chapel on Lovers Lane Thursday (June 15) from 4-9 p.m. (CDT) and at Eastwood Baptist Church Friday (June 16) from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The funeral is set for 2 p.m. Friday at Eastwood Baptist.