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Kiki Stokes Begins New Journey As Head Coach At Upper Iowa

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(Photo by South Dakota State Athletics)

A lot can happen in five years, and Kiki Stokes has proven that.

Graduating in 2016 from Nebraska, Stokes had an impressive college softball career. She concluded her college playing days holding a program record with 200 runs scored and ranked third in Cornhusker history with 120 walks. Though she was drafted sixth overall in the 2016 National Pro Fastpitch College Draft by the Houston Scrap Yard Dawgs, Stokes always knew her passion for the game ran deeper than just playing it.

So, she took up the opportunity to juggle playing professionally and volunteer coaching at her alma mater for two years after graduating.

“It was my fifth year at Nebraska that I realized that maybe I would like to change my career path and that I really liked teaching the game,” Stokes said. “After my sixth year at Nebraska and as the volunteer coach, that was when I realized that I wanted to be a head coach. I didn’t know when that was going to be or how that was going to happen, but that was going to be my goal.”

For the last three seasons, Stokes has tested her leadership skills as an assistant coach for the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. However, her greatest test came on the field as a professional softball player.

Stokes was a part of the Scrap Yard Dawgs team before disbandment occurred last summer stemming from a since-deleted tweet by former general manager Connie May. The tweet tagged former President Donald Trump in a photo of the team standing for the national anthem at the time of the summer 2020 racial and social justice protests that swept across the country. Stokes and the rest of Scrap Yard's players disaffiliated from the organization and rebranded as This Is Us Softball days later.

Navigating the softball world as a Black woman can be challenging, but Stokes and others are fighting every day to change that.

“We need representation,” Stokes said. “We just need kids to be able to see that there is more to give, and we can all teach this game at a high level. It doesn’t matter what you look like.

“We are starting to make an impact and we are starting to make a difference, and it is just the beginning. It is going to continue to happen, and we will keep fighting for people to be at the top in not just the assistant roles, but in head roles.”

During the school year, Stokes dedicates her time to coaching the next generation of softball players. During the summer, she dedicates her time to both recruiting and playing the game.

“You have to find a balance,” Stokes said. “I have been fortunate enough that a lot of the places that I have been playing, I have also been able to recruit, so I have been doing a little bit of both.”

After the events of last summer, Stokes has seen the sport of softball change in the way people address and understand race-related issues.

“I have seen a lot of people be more aware of what is going on in the softball community and that is all that we were asking for,” Stokes said. “It is awesome to see that things are already turning, and we have got to continue to just keep turning the page and keep educating and giving people the platforms and voices to be heard.”

While Stokes has been helping Black women around the game get into coaching roles, she is now embarking on a new coaching adventure herself. On July 5, she was named the head coach at Division II Upper Iowa University.

“I really didn’t think that it would be this soon in my career, but nonetheless, it’s exciting to know that I get to lead the next generation of girls and be able to make an impact on their lives,” Stokes said. “Upper Iowa is a great school—this is a great program that has some good history with it as well. I think that it is going to be fun coming into a program and turning it over to make it a little bit better.”

Ready to take on her first season as a head coach and turn around a team that was previously 13-30, Stokes remains focused on how she can lead the UIU Peacocks to victory.

“I am looking forward to just meeting the girls,” Stokes said. “I want to just bring something different that they haven’t experienced before. I am so excited for that.”

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