Catching Up With Deena Dill

Former Vandy track & field standout, cheerleader updates life and career

by Andrew Maraniss

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Part of an ongoing series, catches up with former Vanderbilt track & field student-athlete and cheerleader Deena Dill.

Dill, from Dayton, Tennessee, was a triple jumper and hurdler during her time on West End and was also on the cheerleading squad.

Dill recently took some time for a Q&A to update her life and career: What is your occupation these days?

Dill: “I’m a television and film producer, writer and actress.”

How has COVID-19 affected you and your family?

“Fortunately for my husband and me, none of our family members have been infected and we both still have income. However, the ripple effect of COVID-19 is flipping everything else in our life on its head. Like everyone with school-aged children (we have a fifth and a sixth grader), there are homeschooling and work-from-home challenges that literally create, ‘the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,’ on an almost hourly basis.

“For me professionally, film and TV production has completely shut down. Thankfully, I receive some residuals from previous work. Also a nice development for me – and perhaps interesting to sports fans – a show I recurred on called Ambitions on OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network) last year is now on Starz and my TV hubby is played by Brian Bosworth. As a producer, most of my work is geared toward setting up projects with companies as we all face severe funding and physical production uncertainties.

“My husband is an ER doctor, one of the superhero healthcare workers on the front line of this battle, so there have been profound impacts on our lives! On the stress-inducing side of things, ER staffs face the challenges of exposure, protective equipment shortages, ethical dilemmas, etc. They are also dealing with drastic cuts in hours, pay and benefits because people are avoiding ERs except for the most urgent reasons for fear of walking into a COVID-19 epicenter.

“On the funnier side, we’ve implemented sanitation protocols at our house that have led to all our neighbors seeing my hubby strip out of his scrubs down to his undies on our porch! Neighbors now text to ask about show times. He wipes down with disinfectant and walks immediately to the shower which resulted in him inadvertently streaking behind me during a video conference call! My colleagues and I couldn’t stop laughing.”   

What has been the hardest adjustment?

“The hardest adjustment for me has been the lack of face-to-face interactions with friends, family and work colleagues, especially not being able to see my mom who is going through chemotherapy right now. Social media has mitigated the effects of the shelter at home orders to some degree for all of us, but it just doesn’t come close to replacing in-person connections.”

What has been the most pleasant surprise in these circumstances?

“How fun recess is! We’ve found that set schedules for their school days help us all stay focused and we’ve literally scheduled recess into our day. I’m very pleased with myself that I can catch the kids when we play freeze tag! But, honestly, at my age, I’m not sure how much longer I can play through the pain!

“I also think it’s very uplifting to see the positive actions most people are taking during this difficult time – acts of kindness and compassion to help neighbors and strangers in need. I pray we emerge from social distancing a lot closer and kinder.”

Any good books, movies or games to recommend?

“Yes, I have a must-read for Vanderbilt fans and from a Vanderbilt alum no less! Buzzer Beaters and Memorial Magic. It is a well-written, detailed account of one of the golden eras of Vandy hoops by clutch player and Bomb Squad member Barry Goheen.

“I also highly recommend camping, a new activity for the family during this crazy COVID time.”

What was your all-time favorite moment as a Commodore?

“I can’t narrow it down to one ‘favorite.’ There were so many fun and exciting times! My personal single greatest athletic achievement at Vandy, however, was talking my track coach, Mark Webb, into letting me try out for cheerleading. I’m not joking! I loved track, but being on the sidelines at major sports events like SEC football and basketball games, the NIT and the NCAA basketball tournaments while getting to flip and fly through the air and be involved in those events was extraordinary.

“My first year at Vandy I got to cheer for the Bomb Squad in basketball and ‘DaFellaz’ in football. That year we beat a ranked Florida football team at home and I still remember making the Gator chomp with my arms as I ran out on the field to celebrate!

“My first men’s home basketball game ended with a Barry Goheen half-court buzzer-beater over Louisville – talk about Memorial Magic! Students and fans rushed the court. I was knocked down from the back, getting trampled and then, luckily, some big dude reached down, picked me up and said, ‘Big D! Get off the floor!’ It was the center from the football team Kevin Brothen. I was totally fine and we cracked up. That wasn’t the last Memorial Magic stampede for me, but I was never caught off guard by one again.

“Those two stories were both the beginning of freshmen year and truly just the tip of the iceberg.”

What do you miss most in the sports world right now?

“I missed March Madness – the games, the Cinderella stories, the brackets, the bets with friends – all of it. Right now, I’m disappointed with the lack of college baseball and those amazing VandyBoys as well as the most exciting two minutes in sports, The Kentucky Derby. But at least there’s the ESPN Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance, to ease some of the pain.”

Any advice or words of wisdom to Commodore Nation to help us get through this?

“We all face an unprecedented and unsettling set of circumstances with this pandemic. I’d advise people to embrace a higher purpose to give you reason and rationale to get through this, to be aware that you can never be sure how this situation is affecting others and to make grand plans for the future. As our alma mater says, ‘Forward ever be thy watchword, Conquer and Prevail!’ ”

Anything else you’d like to say about your time at Vanderbilt or what you’ve been up to since you left?

“Yes. It went by way too fast and I miss the hell out of it! Having the honor of being a Vanderbilt athlete was one of the greatest experiences of my life – and I’ve had a very blessed life! The experiences I had and the individuals I met through Vanderbilt athletics have truly shaped my life. No one chose to come to Vandy to be just an athlete. Everyone was a student-athlete, which required a type of dedication and determination unparalleled by our rivals. The friendships, the travel, the great stories, the practices and workouts, the cramming for classes on airplanes or buses after a disappointing defeat or a great victory all forged a type of camaraderie that lasts a lifetime.

“Lastly, I believe my greatest moment as part of Commodore Nation is still ahead and just around the corner.

“My uber-talented friend Andrew Maraniss has granted me the TV and film rights to his amazing New York Times Bestseller, Strong Inside, the story of Perry Wallace, a man who was the epitome of the Vanderbilt student-athlete and so much more. Perry Wallace was the first African American basketball player in the SEC and he was also a towering intellect, a valedictorian and a double-engineering major. Perry became a Columbia law school graduate, a DOJ attorney with both the Carter and Reagan administrations, a law school professor, a man of global influence and a civil rights hero. He was kind-hearted, hilarious, dignified and one of my heroes.

“I hope and pray I will be able to put together an amazing creative team that will do Perry Wallace, Andrew and our alma mater justice.”