GREENBRIER — In the heart of "True Blue" country, Greenbrier’s Autumn Russell made it a red-letter day Wednesday.
Russell, who stars in softball, track and basketball for the Lady Panthers, became the first Greenbrier High School athlete to ever directly sign with the Arkansas Razorbacks. On the first day of the early signing period, she signed to play softball next year at the UA.
Part of the blue-themed Greenbrier cafeteria was decorated with red balloons and red tablecloths. Red cupcakes, razorback-logoed cookies and red punch was served.
"I’ve dreamed of this my whole life," Russell said. "I’ve always wanted to play for the Razorbacks.
Russell, a daughter of Tony and Ginger Russell of Greenbrier, has been a mainstay for the Lady Panthers for three seasons, helping them to two 5A state semifinal berths and one state runner-up finish and three straight conference championships.
A standout sprinter in track, she has stolen more than 60 bases in her high school career and had an on-base percentage from her leadoff spot of near .700. She batted .500 last season.
"I’ve had the privilege of standing along the third-base line and watching her run by," said Greenbrier coach Brian Butler. "If she got on first, she would usually be on third in two pitches."
Butler said there was more to Russell as a teammate than just her natural athletic ability.
"It’s her work ethic," he said. "She comes to practice every day with a smile on her face and tries to make everybody else better."
She said she has been playing softball since age 5 and has never played anything but fast pitch.
"I played three sports but I put softball above the everything," she said. "It has always come to me. I like the team concept, cheering on the team and the fast pace."
"It’s very hard nowadays to see a three-sport athlete so dedicated," said Stephen Wood, Greenbrier’s athletic director. "Usually, basketball ended about the time softball was beginning so she’d go directly to that. She would go to softball practice at 4:30 in the afternoon then go to the track immediately afterward and go though track practice with coach (Nathan) Moreland for about an hour or so."
She would also do speed training regularly on her own during the week.
She plays third base for the Lady Panthers. She said the Razorbacks plan to play her in the outfield.