BOWIE – It is unusual for science and softball to go hand in hand, but for Cassandra Clayborne, her love for both activities has taken her career to new heights. Clayborne, a former softball student-athlete and honor graduate from Bowie State University, was recognized by the NCAA Woman of the Year selection committee as one of […]
BOWIE – It is unusual for science and softball to go hand in hand, but for Cassandra Clayborne, her love for both activities has taken her career to new heights.
Clayborne, a former softball student-athlete and honor graduate from Bowie State University, was recognized by the NCAA Woman of the Year selection committee as one of the top 30 honorees for the 2015 Woman of the Year Award. Clayborne, of Damascus, Md., was one of a record 480 school nominees. The committee selected 10 women from 12 different sports representing each of the three NCAA divisions.
“It feels unreal,” Clayborne said. “When they originally told me they were going to nominate me, I was like, ‘Okay that’s cool.’ Just to get my name up there as one of the 500 is enough. Then when they kept telling me that I made it through another round of cuts, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness. This is getting real.’”
The top 30 honorees reflect the pillars of the Woman of the Year Award, demonstrating excellence in academics, athletics, community service and leadership. Clayborne is also the 2015 Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Female Scholar Athlete of the Year and the CIAA Woman of the Year, having graduated with a 4.0 grade-point-average with a bachelor’s degree in biology.
“I read the other girls’ profiles online and some previous winners. I was like, ‘these people are like Mother Teresa and they have all the time to do the volunteering and good grades,’” Clayborne said. “It’s just an honor to be considered up there with them.
“My parents always told me how important academics were. They told my three siblings and me that you’ve got to study up because we can’t afford to send you all to college. So I’ve always had that mentality to work hard.”
The NCAA honoree played softball since she was in the sixth grade. Throughout her athletic career, she also played basketball, ran cross country and track, but chose to specifically play softball at Bowie State because she knew there would be no way to balance all of the sports at once.
Ashley Cook, Bowie State University softball coach, said Clayborne deserves the recognition ‘110 percent’ because of her hard work and determination on and off the field. She worked with Clayborne for three years on the softball team and describes her as one of the hardest working college students she’s ever seen.
“Cassie’s very relaxed and focused and she can handle a lot of pressure,” Cook said. “I did put her in situations and put a lot of pressure on her because I knew she could do it.
“The teams were very intimidated by her because of her speed and her strong arm. Basically she was a triple threat at the plate.”
Clayborne said when she first found out about her achievement and announced it to friends and family on social media, everyone was very supportive.
“They were really happy for me. There were lots of calls, texts and messages on Facebook,” Clayborne said. “It was really beautiful and touching to know that so many people were happy for me and the success I’m having is recognition that not everybody gets.”
Cook was ecstatic as well.
“I wasn’t surprised because she’s just laid back, easy going, and hard working,” Cook said. “It’s a good combination, and I knew with her grades and her skill on the field, that she would be accomplishing something big.”
Clayborne hopes to inspire a few different groups of young people, specifically athletic and African American girls. She wants them to know that they can “be good at academics and good athletes.”
“Actually going to an HBCU opened my eyes to how little support African American women get sometimes, whether it’s in athletics and academics,” Clayborne said. “I just don’t want them to settle for what other people think they can or can’t do. I want them to go ahead and reach for it themselves. I feel like black women are some of the strongest women out there and they spend a lot of time supporting the people around them.”
Currently, Clayborne works at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) cancer research department and aspires to become a rheumatologist. Clayborne wants to go to medical school to become a doctor and has already applied to multiple graduate schools in the area.
“I think she left a great legacy behind because she proved that you can do it, be a full-time student and a student athlete and get a 4.0 GPA as a biology major. That’s an amazing accomplishment,” Cook said. “Honestly, Cassie could have went and played at a Division I school. She was very skilled and I was so happy that I got to teach her.”
In late September, the selection committee will name the nine finalists, three women from each division. The 2015 Woman of the Year, selected by the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics, will also be announced Oct. 18 at the ceremony in Indianapolis.
“This year marks the 25th celebration of the Woman of the Year program, and these women continue the tradition of being the best and brightest in college sports,” said Shantey Hill, chair of the selection committee and assistant vice president and senior director of athletics of St. Joseph’s College in Long Island. “This year’s top 30 honorees are outstanding examples for women competing in sports at any level, and we are confident that they will continue to make a difference in the world for many years to come.”