Jim "Coach" Pickens
Jim Pickens was born in Princeton, Kentucky , the youngest child of L.D. and Myrtle Pickens, on March 1, 1927. He had two brothers, Joe and L.D., Jr., and two sisters, Mary Elizabeth and Louise. He attended Butler High School, where he was selected by his classmates as the best all-around athlete his senior year. This athletic ability is what gave Jim the opportunity to accomplish some of the things he has. It opened doors to him that would not have been opened if he had not been such a great athlete. However, athletic ability can only carry an individual so far. It was the character and personality that Jim possessed that made him successful.
After graduating high school, he joined the U.S. Army and served our country in Europe, where he lost a brother, L.D. Jr., fighting for the cause. This brave soldier is buried in Belgium along with others who fought for freedom. Jim was able to return to the states and take advantage of the opportunity given him. The G.I. Bill allowed him to attend the college of his choice for free. He chose to attend Western Kentucky University and continue to showcase his athletic ability. While at Western, he played football and baseball. On the gridiron, he accomplished many notable feats. In 1947 as a freshman, he was named to the All-Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference team as a tailback. In 1948, he was named to the All-Ohio Valley Conference team as a quarterback. It was during his sophomore year that Jim intercepted four passes and threw two touchdown passes in a 14-13 homecoming victory over in-state rival Eastern Kentucky University. Those four interceptions are still a team and conference record for one game ~ the longest standing record in OVC history. It was during his sophomore year that Jim began another longstanding record, he married Anna Jo Cook on December 23, 1948.
Jim also played a little baseball while attending WKU. While there, he was the team’s #1 pitcher all three seasons. Before graduating in 1952, he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers. While with the Detroit organization, he played for their minor league team in Davenport, Iowa - The Quad Cities - where his roommate was future Baseball Hall of Fame member and future U.S. Senator Jim Bunning. While playing there, Jim was able to amass a 5-3 record with a 2.5 ERA while batting .400. He would have continued to succeed at this level, possibly gaining a shot at the majors if it had not been for a shoulder injury in the fall of 1951 that ended his career early.
Even though Jim’s baseball and football career were over, his life in sports was far from over. He returned to his hometown area, finished his requirements to receive a degree from WKU, and took his knowledge and skills to Elizabethtown High School. While at E-town, he coached the football team from 1952 till 1956. After a tough decision to leave Elizabethtown High School, he left the school but never left the players. He took a job in Danville, Kentucky to coach their football team. It was at Danville that Jim really made a name for himself. It was his 1958 team that went undefeated (9-0-1) against the toughest teams in the state and was named the “mythical” State Champions by the Lexington Herald-Leader. The title was “mythical” only because the KHSAA did not have the state championship tournament as they do now. This feat also lead to Jim being named the Coach of the Year by the Louisville Courier-Journal.
In 1959, Jim was once again faced with another tough decision. He was offered the football and baseball coaching jobs at Bowling Green High School. He was torn as to what to do. He had formed an attachment with the Danville players, one that few coaches will ever have. However, Anna was expecting their first child, Bowling Green was close to home, and they offered him a salary he could not pass up. So once again he left a school but never left the players. On July 2, 1959, Jim accomplished his greatest feat (the one he is most proud of), Jim Jr. was born. “Coach” moved on, to better himself, quite a few times in his life but each time he always kept the people he left behind dear to his heart and they always have kept him dear to theirs as well.
While coaching at Bowling Green High, he was able to lead them to the state championship tournament in 1962, 1963, 1964, and 1965. In 1964, they were state runner-up, and in 1965, they were able to win it all. Once again, he was named Coach of the Year after this championship. Jim’s overall record for his baseball teams (1959-1965) was an impressive 118-20 or an 85% winning percentage. Jim’s overall high school baseball coaching record was an astounding 203-58. It is numbers like these and the ability, personality and character that Jim has that lead to him being named to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 1992.
It was while Jim was at Bowling Green that he coached Dale Lindsey in football. Dale went on to be a high school All-American, a collegiate All-American at WKU, and played nine years for the NFL Cleveland Browns. Dale is now a coach with the Chicago Bears.
Jim’s accomplishments on the high school level did not go unnoticed. In 1966, he was given the chance to return to his alma mater, WKU, as its baseball coach. He coached their baseball team from 1966 until 1976. While there, he lead them to the OVC Championship in 1969 and coached Western to its first 30 win season ever in 1974. It was while coaching at WKU that he coached Don Durham who went on to play 4 seasons of major league ball with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers. His career record as WKU head baseball coach was 180-186-4.
Even though he left coaching in 1976, Jim did not leave Western. He became the Assistant to the Dean of Student Affairs, a post he held until 1981 when he was named Assistant Intramural Director. Jim was named Intramural Director in 1984 until retiring in 1989. While Director, he was instrumental in the design and development of the Preston Center, WKU’s premier student athletic facility. All of his accomplishments at Western as a student, coach, and administrator were recognized in 1995 when he was inducted into the WKU Athletics Hall of Fame.
Upon retiring, “Coach” joined us here at Hartland Golf Course (which was re-named CrossWinds Golf Course in 2003). Not only was he one of the original employees, he was instrumental in developing the course and the staff. He lead by example with his charm, wit, and charisma.
Jim had done a lot in his life, held many different jobs, and accomplished many different things at all levels of life. He never forgot his community, no matter what job he held. In 1950, as a student at WKU, he was the co-originator of the Little League baseball charter in Bowling Green. He was a high school basketball official during the 1950’s and 1960’s. He coached and played church league softball in Bowling Green, before hanging up his cleats in 1981. He also coached the First Christian Church basketball team to a 13-1 record and the city championship in 1977.
Jim never forgot the kids, whether he was coaching them in high school, helping them in little league, or teaching them through junior golf programs. He gave his heart and soul to the betterment of the society and that is evident in the appreciation and respect he received. Players from 50 years ago still hold him dear to their hearts, the same as the ones he helped just before he passed away. Jim never forgot where he came from. He took advantage of every opportunity given to him, and we are all better people today because of this.
Jim, you touched our lives and our hearts. You molded our lives, our attitudes, and our outlook toward each and every day. You were family to many of us, like a father or grandfather to some and like a brother to others. We love you and thank you for being the great man that you were and because you have made each one of us better because of it.