How Alabama pitcher Montana Fouts turned a Kentucky blue town Crimson red
OKLAHOMA CITY — If you drive through Grayson, Kentucky, a town of 4,212 that sits about 90 minutes northeast of the University of Kentucky, don’t be surprised to hear someone say "Roll Tide."
The banner that merchants put above the main street recently displays it in all caps. On many main street doors are red and white ribbons.
“It’s just really, really odd for us to be rooting for someone beside the University of Kentucky Wildcats,” city treasurer Dawnita Lewis said. “Most everybody here in this small town are big UK Wildcats fans. We all bleed blue. We would never root for anybody but UK … until now.”
Alabama pitcher Montana Fouts has provided plenty for which to root. The Grayson native served as Alabama’s ace en route to the Women’s College World Series where the Crimson Tide reached the semifinals, losing twice to Florida State. Before that, she pitched a perfect game against No. 2 UCLA, only the fifth at the WCWS all-time.
That victory on her 21st birthday was nothing short of impressive on a national stage. But it still might not be as remarkable of an accomplishment as how she, with her humble, caring spirit and softball success, has turned a town filled with Kentucky blue into Crimson red.
“I think it’s the first time I think I’ve ever seen any of my family wear Alabama,” said Abbie Jackson, Fouts’ good friend. “But now, we probably wear it just as much as Kentucky.”
The 2021 WCWS isn’t the start of this. It’s been growing for years, since Fouts pitched in high school.
To understand that success, look no further than the sign at the entrance to the city. It reads: “Welcome to the city of Grayson, Ky, home of Montana Fouts.”
The rest of the sign is filled with her high school accolades. It lists the awards she won, but it doesn’t list some of her impressive stats: A 0.16 ERA (a Kentucky record), nine perfect games and 14 no-hitters, also single-season state records. She also has 111 career high school wins to her name.
That all catapulted her to celebrity status in Grayson. Fouts even received a key to the city. Mayor George Steele also had her sign a softball that he frequently shows off in the office. Fouts is always willing to sign balls and T-shirts, especially for kids.
“Everyone knows who she is, whether they ever actually watched her play or not,” Jackson said. “Most of the town has. It’s really just been amazing to see her blossom from a national aspect.”
Many have seen her blossom from the time she moved to Grayson from West Virginia as a kid. Caroline Young, a friend and her high school catcher, had a front-row seat to the work Fouts put in to become a top collegiate pitcher.
“At first it was scary,” Young said. “I was a freshman and I didn’t really know what I was doing. That’s what was great about her. She helped me learn so much along the way as well. There were many times where I couldn’t feel my hands. She threw so hard.”
Young has never batted against Fouts, nor does she want to.
“I would hate to be the batter,” Young said. “I love being able to watch it.”
So, too, does the rest of Grayson. The town discussion the past few weeks has especially focused on Fouts on Facebook while watching her in the SEC and NCAA tournaments. Many in town have been posting about her on Twitter, too.
“Our town is so small, and she was so known in high school,” Young said. “So many little girls looked up to her. So many came to the games. She is always engaged with … she probably wouldn’t call them her fans at that age in high school, but they were her fans. She engaged with them and she admired them just as much as they admired her.”
Grayson doesn’t have many celebrities who grew up within the city limits. It also doesn’t have much outside of a few dollar stores, restaurants, churches and a couple of shops.
They’re building a sports park, though. It will include a couple of baseball and softball fields. Lewis said they hope it helps with growth, especially with businesses, motels and restaurants. It would only be fitting for Fouts to throw out the first pitch once it opens.
And don’t be surprised if she lets out a "Roll Tide" right after, in the heart of Kentucky.
“I’m hoping that she can come when we get it all ready and see everything,” Lewis said. “Maybe they can name it after her.”
Reach Alabama reporter Nick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @_NickKelly