A student once asked, incredulously, if longtime Transylvania coach Pat Deacon invented field hockey.
Growing up in Somerset, Cassandra Goins was familiar with soccer, but field hockey, with its clattering sticks and constant running, was a novelty when she started attending Transylvania University and was introduced to the sport by Deacon.
Now Cassandra Goins Simms, she graduated from Transylvania in 1993 and is a Tennessee psychiatrist.
"There are special people in your life, in the different stages," Simms said in a telephone interview last week. "In my college stage, she was one."
Deacon was presented with the seventh Sue B. Feamster Trailblazer Award on Sunday, during halftime of the University of Kentucky's women's basketball game against Louisiana State University. Although she graduated from and coached at UK, she spent the bulk of her career at Transylvania, where she retired in 1999.
The award, given to those "who have provided exceptional leadership and paved the way for others to succeed," was presented by Feamster, UK's first women's athletics director and a basketball coach. Feamster also was a national leader on the NCAA steering committee that helped open the opportunity for women to play in the NCAA.
Feamster described Deacon "as a tremendous friend and mentor."
Deacon also will be honored on April 26, when Transylvania dedicates the Pat Deacon Stadium, part of its new Transylvania Athletics Complex on West Fourth Street.
Simms said that even now, she remembers Deacon's exhortations about the benefits of exercise, and she passes them along to her patients.
Simms also remembers Deacon's unstinting faith in her students: "She would always say, 'Cassie, you can do it.' Regardless of how stressed you were, she said, 'You can do it.'"
Deacon spent 27 years at Transylvania, in positions including women's athletics director, associate athletics director, women's intramural sports director, physical education professor and head coach for women's basketball and field hockey.
Field hockey has lost popularity at small colleges in recent years, but Deacon used it both to teach competitive skills and as a way to show even non-athletes how to incorporate intense physical activity into their lives. Deacon said that former Transylvania president Charles Shearer told her that as long as she continued at Transylvania, the school would have a field hockey team.
Nancy Osborne came under Deacon's influence when she was recruited to play basketball after Deacon saw her tall frame as she walked around campus. Osborne, who attended Transylvania in the '70s, is now retired from a long career in state government.
"I told her I liked sports," said Osborne, who had been a high school cheerleader.
That was enough for the coach.
Osborne remembers a road trip when, to save money, Deacon stayed in a room with two students who had a big exam the next day and resigned herself to not sleeping while the students kept the lights on all night to study.
"I never was very good at dribbling," Osborne recalled. "But she was an inspiration on the basketball court, and by encouraging me to be a player. I've always enjoyed people, but all that running stuff I didn't like. Coach Deacon never let you get down on yourself."
If she could speak to Deacon now, Osborne said, she would say: "You taught me to get along with people."
Deacon professes to be mystified that she is fondly remembered by so many.
"I've had a lot of ladies tell me that I inspired them just by encouraging them to come out and try field hockey, try basketball," she said in a telephone interview from her home in Florida. "It was inspiring to me to see these ladies try new things."
Now 79, Deacon continues to believe in the powers of vigorous exercise, including the racquet sport pickleball, table tennis and basketball shooting. She and her husband of 55 years, Jack, are avid bicyclists. The Deacons have a daughter and two grandchildren — both athletes, according to their grandmother.
Deacon competed in the National Senior Games in 2007 in team basketball — half-court, three on three.
"We got beat every game, but it's an experience I'll never forget," Deacon said.
She is evangelical about the benefits of exercise: "My doctor says, 'Pat, you're doing the right thing. You're keeping active, keeping moving.' Physical education has treated me well. Sports have treated me well."