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Atlanta Vipers 27 Years and Counting

Atlanta Vipers Fastpitch Softball Original Team

The Atlanta Vipers Fastpitch organization, as it celebrates its 27th anniversary, stands as a testament to a long and prideful history rooted in an unwavering commitment to placing athletes first. Established in 1997 by visionaries Bill Sheppard and Ernie Yarbrough, the Vipers have evolved from a local fastpitch softball team into a revered institution in youth sports, renowned for its player-focused approach.

Sheppard, who passed away in 2015, started out coaching his daughter, Brittany.  The Rockdale Rockies was his fledgling team that started to see success early. Brittany Yearwood, Sheppard’s daughter remembers the early days.

“We were new to the scene, but eventually we started beating everyone.”

That summer, going into Yearwood’s first high school year, Sheppard started The Atlanta Vipers. Sheppard recognized the need to start an elite organization that was focused on the girls.

Yarbrough, a Southern California native, brought his extensive experience in men’s fastpitch to Georgia.

“When I moved to Georgia in 1988, youth sports was slow pitch only and not fastpitch. I was playing on a men’s team out of Florida. Then one day, a random parent asked me to instruct his daughter on pitching and fielding and that parent was Bill Sheppard."

As Yarbrough continued to teach lessons, he started to help Sheppard coach. The coaching connection was aided by a shared vision.

“It was never the objective to create a big conglomerate empire, but to be small, selective, elite and to develop the girls.”

The partnership with Sheppard, whose daughter Yearwood inherited her family’s sports passion, marked the inception of the Vipers in 1997. Together, they laid the foundation for a program that emphasized development over profit, a principle that has remained a cornerstone of the organization.

The Vipers quickly distinguished themselves with a philosophy centered on creating the total complete youth athlete. This approach, focusing on skills on the field and functioning in society, set the Vipers apart in a landscape increasingly driven by financial incentives.

Sheppard’s profound influence on the Vipers and on players like his daughter, is a crucial part of the organization’s history. Yearwood’s journey with the Vipers, culminating in her playing for St. Francis (Pa.) and the College of Charleston, exemplifies the opportunities afforded to Vipers athletes. Her collection of pins from travels and tournaments with the Vipers are more than just souvenirs, they symbolize a journey marked by growth, competition, and the nurturing guidance of her father.

The Vipers’ commitment to their athletes is echoed in the experiences of players like Elyse Kresho (Oregon Commit, 2024), who fondly recalls her time with the club.

“Being a Viper provided me with opportunities to play across the country at the highest level and get noticed by outstanding collegiate programs.”

Kacie Wiggins (Ga, College and State University) attributes her confidence and the team’s success to the Vipers’ culture.

“Being a Viper was very important to me because it helped to know that I could compete at any level.  It impacted my softball career in a way I never thought it could.  I was always excited to put on a Viper uniform and go out and play for my team. We had such an amazing group of girls and coaches, and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.”

Kaitlyn Oikle’s (Yale) sense of pride in the tradition and significance of wearing the Vipers’ uniform encapsulates the profound impact of the organization’s ethos on its athletes.

“Vipers provided me with a fun, supportive community and I am so grateful to have gotten to finish out my travel ball career with them.”

Over the past 27 years, the Vipers have amassed an impressive record of success, marked by 15 National Championships, including recently – the PGF Nationals Victory by the Atlanta Vipers 18u – Wiggins Team in August 2023, and a 2023 USSSA National Championship won by the Atlanta Vipers 10U – Patterson Team. These victories are a testament to the organization’s commitment to athletic excellence and its ability to compete at the highest levels.

More than just champions on the field, the Vipers have been a vital stepping stone for athletes pursuing their academic and athletic dreams. Hundreds of Vipers alumni have advanced to play at various college levels, from JUCO to elite Division 1 programs. This impressive statistic underscores the organization’s commitment to guiding players in finding their optimal balance between athletic ambition and educational goals.

Today, under the leadership of Selena Patterson, the Atlanta Vipers are not just looking back at their illustrious history but also forward to a future filled with promise and continued dedication to their founding principles. Patterson’s vision aligns seamlessly with the legacy of Yarbrough and Sheppard, focusing on nurturing well-rounded individuals who excel both in the sport and in life.

As the Vipers celebrate over two decades of excellence, their story is not just about trophies and victories; it is about the countless athletes who have developed under their guidance. It’s a narrative of a small organization with a big heart, where being a Viper means embodying a tradition of excellence, sportsmanship, and personal growth.

The Atlanta Vipers Fastpitch organization, through its commitment to placing athletes first, stands as a shining example in the world of youth sports. Their legacy, built on the vision of Yarbrough and Sheppard and carried forward by leaders like Patterson and generations of dedicated athletes, continues to inspire and shape the future of fastpitch softball.


This content was published in the March 2024 Extra Innings Softball Article.