By Mallory Allen, Mara Allen & Lindsey Gloede
There are several new – and yet, very familiar – faces at the helm of the De Pere High School softball team this year.
In December, Brillion native Travis Piper – an account executive for the food manufacturing company Kellogg’s – was announced as the program’s next varsity head coach. He and his wife Cassie have four children: McKayleigh (21), Caden (16), Nataleigh (11), and Colton (7).
Travis and his family are longtime Redbirds and have many connections to the city. “We live in De Pere. My wife works in the district. Our kids have been going to school here since McKayleigh was young.”
It was McKayleigh who first got her father into softball. “I was always a baseball guy growing up, but I fell in love with fastpitch thanks to her about 11 years ago,” Travis said.
Since then, he’s amassed extensive experience as a softball coach at multiple levels. Travis coached for the Wisconsin Wildfire club organization and later led the 16U and 18U River Rebels teams for five seasons. In 2018, his 16U squad finished as the National Softball Association (NSA) state runner-up. Travis has also served as a catching instructor for the De Pere Girls Softball Association for several years.
“I think I have a lot of experience to bring to this program, with everything I’ve learned. I have so much passion for this sport, and I know a lot of the kids already,” Travis said. “When they were younger, they came through the club programs I worked at. It’s fun to see them six, seven years later still into softball and excelling at it.”
Travis said his favorite part about coaching is the players he gets to work with and seeing their hard work pay off. “The girls bring so much energy to practice, games, and tournaments. Being able to instruct them and show technique during practice and then watch it come to life in games is rewarding for not only me but for the players as well,” said Travis.
He added that it’s also exciting to see girls he’s coached over the years get into coaching themselves. “My oldest daughter, McKayleigh, is actually an assistant coach for us this year, and I have another former player, Makayla Alexander, who’s going to be on our staff as well,” Travis said. “It’s fun to see them stick with it… and have softball be an important part of their past and their future.”
McKayleigh is a DPHS softball alum who, in her four years with the program, earned First Team All-Conference honors twice and Second Team accolades once. She’s now a junior at UW-Green Bay majoring in History and minoring in Education, planning to become a high school teacher.
McKayleigh is eager to lead her former team with her father at her side. “I don’t think that life without coaching softball is in the cards for my dad,” McKayleigh said. “The positive impact that his coaching has had on my life and the way that softball has strengthened our relationship enticed me to work alongside him.”
The Piper pair hopes their unique connections to Redbird softball will bring comfort to the players and success to the program. “I want to bring a positive culture in which the girls feel valued,” Travis said. McKayleigh added that she’s “looking forward to working with the girls and pushing them to be the best players and individuals they can be.”
Travis is optimistic about what the future holds for the De Pere softball program. “We have great young talent coming up and a great opportunity to compete at a high level. We have ambitious goals, and we’re hungry to win. I’m ready to take these girls onto the field and compete at every practice and every game.”
The Redbirds compete in the Fox River Classic Conference (FRCC), which is consistently one of the most competitive athletic conferences in the state of Wisconsin, no matter the sport. Travis acknowledges this, understanding that success for his team won’t come easily.
“I told the girls when I first took this role, our job was to compete. It’s to put our best effort out there on the field every day, let the results be what they may,” Travis said. While he and McKayleigh hope to win the FRCC conference, they recognize this is an “ambitious” goal.
“We have a tough conference with a lot of established programs and good players and coaches. It’s not going to be easy,” Travis said. “But I feel like if we can play hard and compete this year and in the seasons to come, it would be awesome to win a conference championship sometime in the near future for De Pere.”
And while winning is any coach’s ultimate goal, the Pipers just want their players to “know they’re leaving a positive impact on everybody they’re playing for, with, and against.”
In Travis’s words: “It’s not about the destination, it’s about enjoying the journey. Hopefully, we can give these young ladies and players a great experience that they can take with them the rest of their lives.”