Sixteen Padua athletes sign on National Signing Day

Sixteen Padua athletes sign on National Signing Day

Thirty-three years ago, President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation declaring a day on the first week of February as National Women in Sports Day.

Combine that with another National Signing Day where high school athletes can begin committing to college athletic programs, and Padua had perhaps their biggest athletic day yet.

Sixteen different Pandas committed to schools, but also celebrated the fact those athletic opportunities exist, something that has grown as Title IX has blossomed.

Michelle Kozicki will play basketball at La Salle, and said they've been a big part of her growing up.

"Sports are in everything that I do. They taught me how to be part of a team, how to be a leader, how to prioritize my time during school and sports. They taught me so much about hard work and my work ethic, and they've provided me with everything that I could have asked for in the other areas of my life."

Paige Kenton will go from Padua to the University of Pennsylvania to play soccer and said she was initially hesitant in the sport.

"First day I did soccer, I told my parents I was going to quit, I would never do it again, I hated it. I think my parents wanted me to just keep working at  something and find a passion, and soccer ended up being that passion."

That passion has taught Paige some important lessons.

"Take cues from my body and make sure I prioritize my health. As an athlete, your body is your job, and there were some times I pushed through some pain I shouldn't have. I think I've learned that in life there's one thing to taking on a challenge, but don't push through pain. Health is a priority."

One of the major issues in women's sports has been the lack of attention compared to men's sports.

Title IX, while mandating schools come closer to 50/50 in participation, doesn't mean people need to consume the sports at the same level.

Ava Ruggeri, who will play lacrosse at Villanova, thinks for female sports to grow, the media needs to take more chances in terms of coverage of them.

"I'd like to see more women's sports being recognized on television. A lot of men's sports are on the TV, so everyone is constantly seeing that and being inspired. If we could get more women's games on the television, little girls could look up and see that it's okay."

Michelle Kozicki felt the game way about the coverage gap.

"Yeah, it bothers me. There are points where the men might be more fun to watch because they dunk, especially in basketball. But women, we compete to such a high level because we want to win so bad that it does sometimes bother me, but at the same time I choose to watch the women's sports, and I feel like other people who know that will choose, too."

One high school sport where the competition gap has closed sharply in Delaware is golf, a sport where there is just one single open tournament.

Two years ago, six of the top seven finishers in the high school state championship were females, and one of them was Haley Quickel, who will play golf and study political science at James Madison.

"At least in Delaware, we'd never seen girls be so prominent in the state tournament. It's really nice to see because I feel that if all of these girls can do it, so can I. I hope younger girls can see that too, see that me and some of the other girls, and see that they can be there too, some day. So it doesn't have to be just one group of people."

Sports can open doors to the future. For Maddy Samuels, who will swim at Mount St. Mary's next winter, it was her training her sport's youngest athletes that steered her towards elementary education with a focus on special education.

"I coached the really little kids, so I knew last year when I was thinking about what I wanted to do that going to work every day and working with the little kids and seeing them improve, smile, and making them happy, making a difference in their lives is so rewarding. I knew I wanted to keep working with kids and making a difference, I knew I wanted to get into elementary education."

And sometimes, sports can simply open a door that might not have opened otherwise, like one Ava Ruggeri felt opened on the Main Line.

"Sports has given me a chance. I don't know if I would have gotten into Villanova if I didn't play lacrosse, because there's so many people applying to that school, so many smart people. But the fact I was able to play lacrosse and be recruited through there, and then could choose nursing, I'm really thankfully for that opportunity."

According to the NCAA, there are 128,000 more female athletes playing sports in college than when President Reagan signed that declaration in 1987, I asked Michelle Kozicki if she could imagine a world where women's sports weren't a thing.

"That's the easiest question, no. I don't know what I would do if I didn't have sports. I probably would go home and watch Netflix all day. I would have nothing to do. But sports help me to bond with people and exert all of this energy, and I have so much fun while I do it, they're just the best."

Delaware high school female sports programs have produced several Olympians and the reigning WNBA MVP, but for every one of them, there's also plenty of doctors, teachers, and other workers who learned lessons through sports.

It was a National Girls and Women in Sports Day to celebrate in Delaware.