Science, Serves & Spurs


Caroline Scott, Staff Writer

Biology Teacher Connects with Family Passion

As Taelyn Tolle, senior and varsity volleyball defensive specialist walks into the gym for afternoon practice, she greets JV volleyball coach Sally Kempfer. While Kempfer is a first-year teacher, Tolle has known her since 2017— Tolle was on the freshman volleyball team as a seventh-grader while Kempfer played on the varsity team as a junior.

“It’s been a little strange, seeing someone you went to school with for two years back as a teacher,” Tolle said. “But I was really excited to have her back because she was always so sweet to us. The younger teammates on the volleyball team, she was always looking out for us. She was a big inspiration to everyone.”

Kempfer is 22 years old and graduated from West Shore in 2019 with her Associate of Arts degree. She said her age initially led to confusion.

“The first day of practice it was, ‘What do we call you, Coach Sally, Coach Kempfer?’” she said. “Was I the teacher, the coach, the friend, the mentor? Finding that middle ground has been interesting, but we’re doing pretty good.”

In 2017, and 2016 graduate and alumna Megan Green coached the freshman and varsity volleyball teams. Kempfer said playing for a young coach helped her empathize with the team.

“It was fun, having that connection to someone who’s around the same age and that youthfulness they can bring to the court,” Kempfer said. “I can see the world from [the team’s] perspective and what that relationship looks like and feed off that past experience.”

According to Tolle, Kempfer brought the energy back she had as a player.

“She’s really encouraging with her team members,” Tolle said. “She likes to be hands-on with her team, always interacting with them.”

JV volleyball player and freshman Violet Castillo takes Kempfer’s biology class. Kempfer also teaches science research.

“Because she’s my teacher and my coach, I can see her during Power Hour and talk to her about volleyball,” Castillo said. “She’s so nice, and she is very helpful and supportive. She’s an awesome teacher.”

Castillo said she appreciates Kempfer’s coaching.

“She helps me when I mess up on my serves,” Castillo said. “That’s the most important rule—don’t miss your serves. Having that help is awesome to get points in games.”

After playing in high school, Kempfer’s mother, Heather Kempfer, coached volleyball at St. Cloud High School in the 1990s and West Shore’s freshman team in 2018.

Kempfer competed in the sport for six years through high school but decided not to commit to a collegiate team.

“I miss volleyball more than I thought I did,” Kempfer said. “Walking in as a coach made me realize that as a player, I really love volleyball, but I thoroughly enjoy coaching. As much as I love my classes, each and every day that we have practice, I look forward to that last bell ringing so I can meet the girls in the gym.”

Kempfer attended the University of Florida, originally majoring in elementary education.

“Young kids scared me,” Kempfer said. “I’m used to dealing with cows, not crying, children. The moment a kindergartener handed me his underwear that he had peed himself in, I was like, ‘No, we’re done here.’ I changed my major immediately and  did something that was half agriculture, which I’m super passionate about, and half education, which I was still extremely interested in.”

Kempfer’s agricultural education courses included horticulture science, soil science, and animal science, as well as courses on how to translate the information she learned into a classroom.

“Half of my curriculum was learning how to be a cowgirl, and the other half was learning how to be a teacher,” Kempfer said. “[In] animal science class, we were out in the pasture working with cattle [or] in the pig barn moving pigs around. We got to deal with different types of livestock  that you see in agriculture today.”

Kempfer also took a ranch horse management course.

“I got to take my horse to class,” Kempfer said. “We learned how to rope cattle in a safe, sustainable way, how to manage cattle off horseback, and work on horsemanship skills. I lived next door to the horse teaching unit and across the street from the beef teaching unit. My horse was in the pasture, so I would hop the fence from my yard, walk into the horse teaching unit, bridle her, and go to class at the barn.”

Kempfer was raised on a cattle ranch in Melbourne with her brother and nine cousins. Kempfer Cattle Company has been operational since 1898.

“I’m sixth generation, and my family is very deep into the cattle industry, “ Kempfer said. “We like to say producing beef is our business. I was on a horse two days after I was born. [My parents] left the hospital, and some family friends were participating in a rodeo. They loaded me on a horse in somebody’s arms. [I was] riding solo when I was five years old, and every summer, I would work cows with my family. I’ve always been very passionate about my family’s business. It’s not only a tradition, but it’s a passion that’s been instilled through the generations that have been born and raised there.”

Kempfer said her interest in education also stemmed from her family. Heather Kempfer, a biology teacher at Melbourne High School, has taught for 29 years.

“The apple did not fall far from the tree,” Kempfer said. “She’s always been a wonderful role model to me, and I feel that she prepared me in the ways of teaching and embedded that passion in me as well.”

When Kempfer received a notification for an available teaching job, she said she jumped on the opportunity.

“As a graduate from here, I realized how wonderful of a place this is and how much I missed being part of the Wildcat family,” Kempfer said. “Knowing there was a job open here, I [wouldn’t] accept any less. This is the cherry on top.”