By Rubin E. Grant
John Simmons didn’t have any plans to leave Hayden High School.
He had been there 27 years, including 23 as the head softball coach. He had compiled a 659-299 record and led the Wildcats to state championships in 2013 and 2019.
But last year, when he was contacted to see if he was interested in becoming Vestavia Hills’ head softball coach, Simmons decided to look into it.
“I turned in my resume and had a couple of interviews,” Simmons said. “I thought it was a good offer and would be a good place for me and my daughter, Miah, who’s a junior.”
Simmons was no stranger to Vestavia Hills. He had served from 1992 to 1994 as the city’s field and gym supervisor while working for the Vestavia Hills Parks and Recreation Department.
So, he accepted the offer last summer, replacing Lissa Walker, the 2021 Over the Mountain Softball Coach of the Year, who took a job at Port St. Joe High School in Florida after leading the Rebels to their first state tournament berth since 2016. Walker had been the Rebels’ head coach for 10 years, leading them to four state tournament appearances.
Vestavia Hills City Schools athletic director Myra Miles was thrilled to land Simmons.
“When we talked with other teams, coaches and administrators about coach Simmons, we kept hearing the same message: that he’s a great man, his teams are always prepared and play with grit, and he leads with class and respect,” Miles said.
The Rebels have gotten off to a solid start in Simmons’ first season, heading into this week with a 14-4 record. They reeled off five consecutive wins last weekend to reach the semifinals of the Wetumpka Tournament before losing 3-2 to Fairhope, the eventual champion. Vestavia Hills outscored its opponents 50-13 in the tournament.
Players With Potential
Simmons likes the make-up of his team.
“I think we have got a lot of potential,” he said. “We’ve got four seniors, although one is out right now with an injury. They are showing great leadership.”
The Rebels’ seniors are third baseman Libby Pippin, catcher Caroline Redden, second baseman Kylie Reid and Heaven Bibbs. Bibbs, who usually plays third base, is sidelined indefinitely because of an injury. “We’re still waiting to see when she comes back,” Simmons said.
Pippin, who played first base last season, has moved to third in Bibbs’ absence, although Pippin is left-handed.
“It’s a little unorthodox, but Libby is really good fielder,” Simmons said. “She’s already made some fantastic plays.”
Pippin also is batting .356.
Redden has battled injuries the past two seasons but takes over behind the plate for the graduated Gwynnie Hornibrook, who was a four-year starter. Simmons likes what Redden, who has signed with West Georgia, brings to the table.
“She bats third in our lineup because she consistently makes really good contact,” Simmons said. “She does a good job catching, handling our two pitchers who have totally different styles, and she’s already thrown out a few runners trying to steal.”
Reid returns as the second baseman and has shown improvement defensively and at the plate.
Junior Kayla Franklin, a three-sport athlete, is a standout at shortstop.
“She’s got great range,” Simmons said.
Franklin is batting lead-off because center fielder Lucy Spisto, a transfer from Spain Park, is sidelined with an injury. Franklin is batting .333 with 11 stolen bases.
“We’re definitely missing Lucy, but Kayla is doing a good job at lead-off,” Simmons said.
The Rebels also have twins Ella and Abby Gallaspy, who are juniors, in the starting lineup. Ella Gallaspy is playing center field in Spisto’s absence and batting second, and Abby Gallaspy is playing right field and batting sixth.
Sophomore newcomer Laura Faith Beard is the starting left fielder.
Sophomore Tait Davidson and Miah Simmons are the Rebels’ primary pitchers. Davidson is 6-2 with a 0.76 earned-run average and Simmons is 7-1 with a 1.30 ERA. She also has a .419 batting average.
“Both of our pitchers are really good,” coach Simmons said. “I’ve known Tait for a long time because she has played on my travel ball team. She’s got good velocity and speed on her rise ball. We’re developing her on working both sides of the plate.”
Miah Simmons is playing her fourth year of varsity ball after coming over with her dad from Hayden.
“Miah is a left-hander and she can spin it,” coach Simmons said. “She’s not overpowering, but she changes speeds and locates well.”
When not pitching, Davidson and Miah Simmons play first base.
Vestavia Hills plays in Class 7A, Area 6 with defending state champion Hewitt-Trussville, Spain Park and Oak Mountain.
Coach Simmons believes the Rebels have a chance to make another state tournament appearance.
“We’re hoping to go back,” he said. “We lost several seniors from last season, but I like what the players coming back bring to the table. I think we have a strong batting order. The (pitching) circle will be a key element because defensively we’re solid.”