Believe it or not, National Girls & Women In Sports Day has been around since 1987, when President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation designating Feb. 4, 1987 as National Women In Sports Days. It’s goal is to acknowledge the achievements of female athletes while honoring the progress women have made — as well as highlighting the continuing struggle women in sports face when it comes to equality.

On this year’s observance of the occasion, former Mainland Regional High softball player and current catcher at Rutgers University-Newark, Sam Morton, got an email saying she was selected to represent her school as the National Girls & Women In Sports Day award winner. The award was presented by the New Jersey Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.

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Needless to say, she was quite shocked to hear the news.

“I got an email that day, Feb. 3, and I was reading the email and I had no idea (I had won that award). In the email they just said they were going to mail the award, and I was thinking, ‘what award?’” said Morton, a 2017 Mainland graduate who has one more season of college softball before graduating and moving on to law school. “My reaction immediately was I was completely thrilled to represent my school like that and represent all women and girls in sports — it’s unbelievable. To be recognized for my own accomplishments, obviously, but the main goal of this thing is to encourage girls to get out and play whatever sport interests them or join whatever club interests them, just get out there and do it.”

Morton said that when she was in high school most of her energy was focused on simply getting a chance to play at the next level. Now, as a 21-year-old college senior, she has a greater sense of what her accomplishments mean to not only her teammates and the school she represents, but also to young girls who look up to college athletes like her.

According to a news release from Rutgers-Newark, as a junior (in 2020) Morton’s season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic but in the four games they were able to play, she drove in a pair of RBIs and had a perfect fielding percentage.

Before her shortened junior season, Morton led all Scarlet Raiders with a .354 batting average and 20 RBIs in her sophomore campaign. In that season where she started all 40 games, Morton recorded two home runs which tied for the team lead.

“Sam is an ideal representation of leadership and has left her mark on our program,” her head coach, Caitlyn Seamster, said in that press release. “We are so proud of all of her accomplishments, not only on the diamond but also in the classroom and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.”

“I think when I was in high school I was really concerned about how far I could take my career. I wanted to play in college and that was my biggest goal when I was playing in high school. Then, when I got to college, I was like, ‘this is it (for my softball career), I have to make the best of it.’ The change there was once I got to college it wasn’t all about just getting here, or all about stats and winning and all that stuff, it’s really about something so much bigger,” Morton said. “When I was in high school I always did camps, like field hockey and softball, and I loved coaching younger girls. I remember meeting girls who were a little nervous about participating and what they would look like if they really went all out. I always felt like I was a role model in the sense that I’ve never been afraid to just be obnoxiously competitive and very outspoken, and just be myself. I think a lot of times girls feel like they shouldn’t go all out, they shouldn’t go catch that ball and be dramatic about it.”

Morton said receiving the award will, she hopes, inspire some younger softball players to continue their careers, and as she moves on in her career past college Morton said she hopes she can continue to be an advocate for girls and women in sports.

“It’s a great award to have and I think it build confidence (in women and girls). A lot of people have reached out to me and said they showed (the news) to their girls and they hope they’ll be encouraged to play, and that’s really what it’s about,” she said.

Morton also said it’s great that these kinds of awards are now getting so much attention throughout the country.

“It’s long overdue. Title IX came out in the 70s and that was such a great accomplishment and we saw all the success that came from that, but we need to keep working until we finally get equality,” Morton said. “I know that after my college career I’ll be going on to law school — which is my true passion, and I can advocate that way — but there are a lot of people who want to make sports their career and that’s amazing. They should be able to live off that, they shouldn’t have to have another job.
If they are going to go and pursue that, they should have the same opportunities that men have.”

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays