When Steve Austin and his De Pere (Wis.) High School softball team went out on the field for a practice at Packer Park on Monday, he couldn’t help but think about the weather conditions back home.
It was 19 degrees there. And there was a foot of snow on the Redbirds field.
Austin is a former Colquitt County High football and baseball player who is now the head softball coach at De Pere.
He has remained close with his former Packer teammate Greg Tillery, returning to Moultrie often to visit and finally decided to bring his team south during its spring break for some outside practice.
Austin, two assistant coaches, 13 players and about that number of parents arrived last weekend from Wisconsin and have enjoyed the relatively balmy weather.
Unlike in Georgia, softball is a spring sport in Wisconsin. That often causes problems.
So far, the Redbirds have been practicing in their gymnasium.
“We are probably three weeks away from getting on our field,” Austin said. “Last year, our first game was the first time we took a ground ball on dirt.”
His players have had plenty of opportunity to take advantage of the fine weather and the facilities at Packer Park.
And to enjoy some Southern hospitality, including a barbecue dinner at the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo site earlier this week.
Austin can’t say enough about how the community has taken to his entourage.
“Everybody’s been so accommodating,” he said.
Of course, Austin knew all about Southern hospitality.
He moved to Moultrie from Panama City, Fla., while he was in the eighth grade and later played football for Bud Willis and Bob Griffith and baseball for Jerry Croft.
Tillery, a longtime Colquitt County baseball and football coach, was his Packers teammate in both sports.
After he graduated from Colquitt County High School, he returned to Florida and in 1985 moved to Wisconsin, where he has raised his family and built careers both working for the Department of Corrections in Green Bay, Wis., and coaching football and softball.
He has been a high school head coach, defensive coordinator and position coach over his 20-year career and is in his third year as the Redbirds head coach.
His first De Pere team finished at .500. Last year’s was five games over.
“We lost in the regional finals last year,” he said. “Our goal this year is to get to the sectional final.”
The 2014 Redbirds include Alexis LeCalsey, Amanda Smits, Maureen Welsh, Sarah Kuehn, Emily Meneau, Rachel Blohowiak, Shyanne Reynolds, McKayla Krueger, Emily Ott, Trisha Drage, Haley Taylor, Carly Cerrato and Miranda Patterson.
De Pere has seven coaches in the softball program. Accompanying him to Colquitt County are Kerry Counard and Stephanie Brunette.
Of the seven coaches, only one is a teacher. In Wisconsin, coaches do not have to be teachers. Austin’s job with the state’s Department of Corrections allows him the opportunity to coach.
“It’s been a blessing,” he said. “It’s been all about the kids.
“And I love De Pere.”
Over the years, he and Tillery have remained in touch.
“I talk to Greg weekly,” Austin said. “He’s my best friend. I love him.”
And when Austin finally decided to make the spring break trip, Tillery helped out on this end.
Colquitt County Athletic Director Kevin Giddens has made sure Austin knows to call if he needs anything.
Packer baseball coach Tony Kirkland is close at hand. As is Packers softball Coach Jake Mobley, who has made sure the field is manicured before the Redbirds use it.
Austin clearly relishes the opportunity to return to Moultrie, a community where he lived just five years.
“It was a great experience living here,” he says. “I still consider it home.”