VILLA HILLS Much like the character she was portraying, Fredda Simpson got the opportunity of her career on the baseball field.
Like any baseball player who gets to a certain age, but unlike many Hollywood actors, Simpson completely changed careers around 13 years ago when she had her first child.
Simpson, a 1981 Villa Madonna Academy graduate, is recognized by many movie fans as Ellen Sue Gotlander, one of the players for the Rockford Peaches in the 1992 hit movie A League of Their Own, which tells the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the World War II era.
Simpson’s character won the Miss Georgia beauty pageant before being recruited to the baseball diamond to draw male fans to the stadium. A tall, statuesque blonde in the movie who now lists herself at 5 feet, 9 1/2 inches, Simpson is shown playing from shortstop or pitching in several scenes.
Simpson, who called herself Freddie as her professional actress name, is one of the inductees to Villa Madonna’s athletic hall of fame, enshrined Sept. 12 at the school. Simpson currently teaches yoga and practices healing techniques such as acupuncture in Charlottesville, Va., and is excited to come back to Northern Kentucky.
“It should be really interesting,” she said. “It was an amazing time there. People ask me why I stopped acting and part of that was having a daughter. The most ordinary of things, when I had her everything came into focus. Things got very clear.”
Simpson was all-state in volleyball and an all-star in softball both her junior and senior years at Villa. She played volleyball at the University of Kentucky where she was all-academic and all-SEC before going on to her movie career. She starred in many commercials but her last movie was in 2002.
A League of their Own had big-name stars Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty and Rosie O’Donnell, plus several others who would continue on in Hollywood. The baseball scenes were filmed at Bosse Field in Evansville, Ind., where the Florence Freedom play several games a year. The stadium has current logos that signify its presence in the film.
Simpson’s 10-year reunion at Villa came while she was filming the movie and she was able to come back to the area and attend.
Simpson said volleyball coach Carla Austin was a valuable teacher in her life.
“That experience with those girls on that team was one of the most valuable things I did in my life,” she said of her Villa volleyball career. “We were a tiny little school and the coach came in and taught a completely different way to play. She even drove me around to places like UK and UT so they could see me and audition for them. She really stressed the team and the power of working together, one being no one being more important than the rest. It was a very profound thing.”
Simpson saw the value of good coaching on the set of A League of Their Own, as the actors turned into proficient throwers with practice and instruction.
“I played softball and volleyball,” she said. “When we had to audition for that, they looked for girls who were pretty and could act and play baseball. I went into a batting cage and taught myself how to hit a baseball. The whole experience was amazing and we got to meet the original women.”
Hall of Fame
In addition to honoring these accomplished athletes, VMA will also recognize the state championship swim teams of 1974, 1975, and 1976 and state runners-up in 1972, 1973, and 1977, and the 1980 volleyball team on the 35th anniversary of their state title. The volleyball team won the state championship with an impressive 15-1, 15-3 win over Our Lady of Providence. The team finished 39-2 with one of its two losses to Mother of Mercy High School in Cincinnati who went on to win the Ohio state championship that year. Four members of the team played DI volleyball and another played DIII.
Individual athletes (besides Simpson):
Mary Jo Dressman Pursley won several swimming state titles and went on to compete at Louisiana State University where she was All-American and the 1981 Female Athlete of the Year. She qualified for the 1980 Olympic Trials in three events and was world-ranked in the 1500 Free in 1979.
Lisa Warman was a four-sport athlete at Villa and All-State in volleyball. She went on to play at Florida State University. Warman interned in the FSU Sports Information Department which led to a twelve-year career as a color commentator for women’s college sports, and men’s and women’s beach volleyball.
Stephanie Scheper Gillcrist was a four-year starter on the Villa volleyball team. She was a Kentucky Post All-Star and a member of the inaugural AAU Junior Olympic Volleyball team. Scheper Gillcrist was the regional champ in doubles tennis in 1982. She went on to be a three-year volleyball starter at the University of Tennessee.
Beth Rechtin Venard was a three-sport Villa athlete playing volleyball, basketball, and softball. She was each team’s Most Valuable Player her senior year and named Academic All-State. She received the U.S. Army Reserve National Scholar-Athlete Award. Rechtin Venard played volleyball at Thomas More College and is an inductee into their Hall of Fame.
Regina Noll Ransdell played soccer, volleyball, basketball, and softball at Villa. While a strong all-around athlete, it was in basketball that Noll Ransdell distinguished herself. She was an Enquirer Player of the Week, All-Star, and one of only nine athletes in Villa’s 1,000 Point Club.
J. J. Santos ran cross country and track, and played basketball and tennis at Villa. He also put great effort into making athletic opportunities available to male students when the transition to co-education at the Academy was in its early stages. He went on to run track and play tennis at Bethany College in West Virginia where he earned varsity letters in both.
Kate O’Toole played volleyball and is one of only two Villa athletes to have her jersey retired. She received the statewide Sportsmanship Award and was a Wendy’s High School Heisman national winner. O’Toole played volleyball at Northern Kentucky University where she was Academic All-American.
Sarah Stamper was NKAC DII Player of the Year in golf for three years, placed 2nd in the Regional Tournament and 6th in state in 2004, and was named Enquirer Player of the Year in 2004. Stamper still holds Villa records in tennis and qualified for state in doubles. She golfed for the University of Cincinnati where she was a Big East Academic All-Star.