When 9-year-old Ava Fulton first moved to Daniel Island, she spotted a “must have” No. 89 Clemson jersey during a routine family shopping trip to Target. She had no idea that her purchase would lead her on a journey that ultimately connected her with the Clemson football player who dons the same number.
Ava, a fourth grader at Christ Our King-Stella Maris School in Mount Pleasant, is a self-proclaimed football fanatic. She is a member of “The Roar”– one of the all-girls flag football teams through the City of Charleston Recreation Department. She said that she loves everything about the game – tackling, catching, running, and scoring touchdowns. Her favorite position to play is wide receiver because she likes being able to catch the football and run with it.
According to Karyn Fulton, Ava’s mother, her love for football began during her toddler years.
“It began with the Patriots and Tom Brady, our family’s favorite team and player, when she was about 3 years old,” explained Karyn. “She would watch games and tease her uncles (who are huge Jets fans) that she likes the superior team. It didn’t hurt that they won three Super Bowls by the time she was 8. She decided that she, too, would play football one day.”
At the time, the family lived in Manhattan, where there weren’t many options for girls to participate in football leagues. Ava was learning to play basketball, but she vowed that once her family moved to South Carolina, she would be playing football – with the intent to tackle, wearing pads and a helmet and eyes black.
After a visit to Bishop England High School, the family fell in love with the area and moved to Daniel Island in March 2020, when schools in New York City shuttered and the transition was made to virtual learning.
Ava’s new Clemson jersey was a source of pride and she wanted to know more about the player who wore No. 89. Her dad encouraged her to do some research.
“She created a list of the whole team and highlighted his name (Max May) and number and included all the stats she could find about him,” Karyn remarked.
When asked what she learned about No. 89, Ava said, “I learned he’s a wide receiver. He’s a sophomore. He is 6 feet, 1 inch, and 190 pounds. His birthday is March 5 which means he’s a Pisces, like my dad. His major in college is marketing and he’s on the honor roll, so he’s smart.”
Ava decided to write May a letter. It read:
“Hi I am Ava Fulton. I wear your jearsy [sic] and I’m a big fan of Clemson. I just moved here and I love wide receiver! I want to play football. It would be really cool if you could send me some football gear. If you can’t that’s fine. Go #89 From, Ava”
Karyn explained what happened next during the journey of the jersey.
“A box appeared at the door a couple months after she sent her note and the return address said ‘Max May #89, Clemson, SC.’ She was SHOCKED when she saw the name. She tore it open and found the enclosed note and gear to go with it. She was shaking as
she read the note. She could not believe he had written back. It was one of the happiest faces I have ever seen on her.”
May’s hand printed letter on notebook paper read:
“Hey Ava! I’m sorry it has taken me so long to write you back. It has been pretty crazy around here for the past few months but we are getting a little break during our week off! I hope the 4th grade has been a ton of fun for you so far. I love to hear that you love the wide receiver position and want to play football! That is SO AWESOME! I hope these two pairs of gloves help you catch the ball better. The white pair is my game glove from the Miami game and the pink pair is from the Syracuse game. I also wear a towel during games so I’m giving you one of those to wear when you’re playing wide receiver. Keep chasing your dreams Ava & Go Tigers. –Max May, 89”
Ava keeps the note and gear on display in a shadow box on her desk.
May — a graduate of Daniel High School in Central, South Carolina, and a two-time ACC Honor Roll selection — is proving to be an ideal role model for Ava and many other young fans.
According to Ava, participating in football can teach lessons in life. “Football teaches you to be a good sport. If you educate and work hard you can do anything you want. And never give up. And ... more girls should play football! It’s fun and it’s not just for boys!”