BRISTOL, Tenn. – There are many reasons why a young woman decides to pick up a ball and glove, step on a field, and devote their time to the game of softball. They might have been gifted softball gear by their parents, they could realize they possess skills and talents on the field, or it could be a dream to follow in the footsteps of a family member. For King University student Bailey Deason, one of this year's Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award recipients, her decision to pick up a softball and step on the field emanates from the lifelong effort to free herself from the hardships she endured at home during her youth.
The N4A (National Association of Academic and Student-Athlete Development Professionals) Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award is intended to honor student-athletes who have overcome great personal, academic, and/or emotional odds to achieve academic success while participating in intercollegiate athletics. Despite the challenges they might have faced in life, competition, or within a classroom, they have persevered and found success.
Deason was dealt a difficult hand at a young age and faced numerous obstacles in her home life – a home life that consisted of neglect, as well as parental alcohol and substance addiction. All of which led Deason to suffer personal struggles that took years to overcome.
When Deason was eight years old, she finally found an outlet that allowed her to escape her struggles at home and evade the feeling of abandonment and abuse that she was suffering as a child. That outlet was softball, where she showed tremendous talent and natural ability early on. Thus began her softball journey, which she did not know would end up being her saving grace.
"At the time, it was not the game of softball that brought me pleasure or a sense of worth, but instead, it was the moments on the field where time stood still." Deason said. "Traveling to different locations that allowed me to get away from my father, and the way I felt when I was someone else's responsibility and they actually felt as if they had to care for and about me."
"Thanks to my athletic ability at a young age and how much my coach wanted to win, I was able to feel something that I would not have had, had I not played softball, and that was self-worth. I didn't know my worth and I didn't know why I was put on this earth, but then I picked up that softball and knew there was a reason."
By the age of 10, Deason was asked to join a travel team and not only did her passion for the game grow, but she began to understand what it was like to be around individuals who supported her and showed her what it was like to be cared for. One of her biggest supporters was Cameron Farrell, her head softball coach of 10 years, who eventually showed her what it was like to have a normal childhood, one that was free of abuse and pain.
"She's eight, doesn't matter what we're playing, she's dominating", Farrell said. "I looked at that girl and said you're going to be something special."
Even though her passion for the game grew and she began to excel on the field, she struggled at home. It was not until she was 16 that she decided to tell her softball coach about her abusive home environment. With the help and support from Coach Farrell, Deason and her twin brother went to live with her aunt. This allowed her to change her environment and escape the home she desperately wanted to flee.
"She went from a good student to great student," coach Farrell said. "It was like a weight had been lifted off of her, all because of the changes that were made."
Through her hard work, perseverance, dedication, and strength, Deason eventually earned a softball scholarship to Columbia State Community College. She saw this opportunity as not only a chance to further her education and play the sport she loves, but she knew this was an opportunity to get out on her own, away from her hometown and away from a past that continued to haunt her.
"I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had no idea who I wanted to be. However, what I did know was who I did not want to be," Deason said. "As statistics would have it, I was supposed to be a product of my parents. I was determined to be so much more, but even more determined to leave my previous life behind me."
During her first season with Columbia State, she tore the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in her right knee after diving for a ball at practice. Deason's biggest concern was not just the injury, but the questions she was going to be faced with regarding her past, which she was in no way prepared to answer. After opening to her teammates about her past, Deason soon realized that the past could not be buried.
"I missed that entire fall season as I recovered from my MCL tear, but in the meantime, I learned a lot more about myself and the strength I possessed," Deason said. "The spring season rolled around and even though I had recovered from my injury, I struggled on the field. My struggles on the field began to follow me into the classroom. Softball was my everything, and at the time, it was the only thing that I felt like I was good at. For the first time in my life, I was an average athlete and an average student."
Deason returned to Columbia State her sophomore year and after bouncing back from her MCL tear, she returned to the field strong, both mentally and physically. She stayed focused in school and in her softball career, and continued to shine in the classroom and on the softball field, which allowed her to continue her athletic and academic career.
After much uncertainty and deliberation about her next move, Deason made the decision to move almost six hours away from home to continue her academic and athletic career at King University. But once again, life would deal her a difficult hand.
"Only a couple weeks into the school year, one morning during a 6:30 a.m. practice something went wrong. Once again, I did not understand what had happened at the moment, I just knew my arm was not supposed to hurt the way it did when I attempted to throw a ball to second base," Deason said. "It was not until later that afternoon when I saw our team athletic trainer that she broke the news. I had torn the labrum in my right shoulder. A shoulder injury is a throwing athletes' worst nightmare, and even though I had felt like I had been living a nightmare my whole life...The nightmare got even worse."
"We noticed she was in some discomfort right off the bat," King head coach Jake Cockerham said. "She had a significant tear in her labrum, and for a lot of players, that's not a good situation. Some medical experts would doubt she would ever throw again."
The thought of losing the ability to play the game that saved her both frightened and worried Deason and after missing out on her fall season to recover from the injury, she wanted to do anything and everything she could to get ready for the spring.
On April 18, 2018, Deason had surgery to repair and reconstruct her labrum. After the surgery, she found it difficult and painful to throw a ball and she felt that her time as a softball player was officially over. The 2019 softball season was much like the 2018 season, as Deason found her injury hindering her from performing to the best of her abilities. She planned to end her career that May, but after excelling in the classroom, she was presented with the opportunity to get her Master of Business Administration.
"I felt I needed to continue with my softball career because I still had a lot left to give. I knew I was more than just a softball player, but at the same time, I was not. I knew that being a softball player was something I would never get back," said Deason. "For so long, it had been the only thing I needed. As a little girl, I thought the days in the dirt would last forever. They do not however, and I knew if I walked away before I had given everything to the sport that given me everything, I would never be able to forgive myself."
In her final season as a Tornado, Deason ranked in Conference Carolinas' top 10 in runs (13), home runs (3), walks (14) and on base percentage (.466). The native of Lewisburg, Tenn., also owned a batting average of .316 while ripping three doubles. She was named All-Conference Carolinas this season and excelled not only on the field, but in the classroom, as the senior earned her MBA from King in the spring of 2020, and will participate in King's Class of 2020 Commencement Ceremony, currently scheduled for August 1.
"She has always been someone with a bit of a chip on her shoulder, but it's a good chip, which is why she is where she is today. Bailey has overcome a lot, but she wants to use it to help others," coach Cockerham said. "If I could pick a kid to model my kids after, it would be Bailey."
Deason is the only non-NCAA Division I athlete to earn the award this year. She becomes the second NCAA Division II student-athlete and third non-NCAA Division I athlete to be recognized over the last five years.