Sharon C. Brown: Coach's life part of health movement; Decon opened doors for women in sports

February 17, 2014 

  • At issue: Feb. 4 Herald-Leader article, "She all but invented Transy women's athletics; Former coach and professor receives UK's Sue B. Feamster Trailblazer Award"

"Uncommonwealth" — this powerful and well-chosen word was used in the title of Cheryl Truman's recent article "Uncommonwealth: Transy coach and administrator influential in the long run" to describe Pat Deacon.

Deacon's outstanding career aligns with the historical Women's Health Movement that emerged in the 1960s with the primary goal to improve health care for women and marked by the publication of Our Bodies, Ourselves in 1973. This bestseller was selected as one of the 88 books included in the 2012 Library of Congress exhibition "Books that Shaped America."

Many scholars argue that the Women's Health Movement was the most significant accomplishment of the women's movement.

Part of the Women's Health Movement was the passing of Title IX in 1972 that requires "gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding." This law allowed and continues to protect girls' and young women's opportunities to participate in sports across the country.

The number of women participating in collegiate sports increased 600 percent from 1972 to 2011. Participation in sports reduces the risk of obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis and breast cancer, the leading causes of death and disability for women. Physical activity not only benefits females but the health of our society as a whole.

As a pre-Title IX child, I remember practicing on my brother's Little League team when my dad was the coach. However, when game time came, I became the scorekeeper. The year I began high school was the first year my school district had girls' athletics teams. When I went to college in the 1980s, I was in the first group of female athletes at Eastern Illinois University to be awarded athletic scholarships. Many doors opened across the country for young women like me because of talented and dedicated women like Deacon.

On Feb. 2, I attended the University of Kentucky's women's basketball game to see my former colleague and friend receive the Sue B. Feamster Trailblazer Award, given to recognize someone who has "provided exceptional leadership and paved the way for others to succeed."

It was a fitting setting to applaud Deacon's many years of service and many accomplishments. Memorial Coliseum was packed. I marveled at the skill level of the players on both teams, celebrated the achievements of the female athletes from a variety of sports honored at halftime for being named to All-American Academic and All-Conference Teams, and was thrilled at the excitement surrounding women's basketball.

Deacon's amazing spirit was clearly evident in the photo that accompanied the article. It caused me to reflect not only on my own journey, but on the journey of many others whose lives have been changed because of women like her. With a great smile on her face and a light shining from her eyes, the award in one hand, the other raised in joy and gratitude — it was clear that an active life lived to help others is its own reward.

Deacon was the first person I met when I came to Transylvania. She provided support and guidance to me as a young professor. And after taking me on my first Kentucky bike ride, she was instrumental in my becoming a cyclist.

For me and her former athletes, she has paved the way for us to celebrate our abilities to develop strength and endurance.

Last fall, as part of Lexington's Girls on the Run, a national program created to help girls from third to eight grades to improve their self-esteem and fitness by training for and running a 5K, I was the running buddy for my 10-year-old friend, Margaret.

As I think about my oldest and youngest female athlete role models, I believe one of the best ways for us to honor the legacy Deacon has left is to encourage girls and women of all ages in our state to enjoy and benefit from being physically active.

Pat Deacon, a University of Kentucky graduate and a true Transylvania Pioneer in women's athletics, who has inspired and mentored countless young women over her 30-year career, is one of the finest examples of the uncommonwealth of Kentucky.

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