Archdeacon: Family goes from Tipp City to Tinseltown

Cricket Wampler, one of the stars on the new TV series “Big Shot.” starring John Stamos on Disney Plus. Stephanie Girard/CONTRIBUTED
Cricket Wampler, one of the stars on the new TV series “Big Shot.” starring John Stamos on Disney Plus. Stephanie Girard/CONTRIBUTED

Credit: STEPHANIE GIRARD

Credit: STEPHANIE GIRARD

Chris Wampler, former Wright State basketball standout, thriving in his role as show-business dad.

It seems only fitting that this whole “journey,” as Chris Wampler calls it, began with a date to the movies.

After all, that 1984 flirtation launched a romance that eventually led to a marriage and now three children who are true silver screen siblings.

“It was my first date ever,” said Holly Wampler, who back in those Tipp City days, was Holly Swisher.

“I was 14 and Chris was 16. We double dated with two of our friends and went to the Englewood Cinema to see “Mr. Mom.” Then we went to the Pizza Hut.

“I’d first met Chris in the fourth grade when we moved to Tipp City from Trotwood. I thought he was cute right away.”

The pair were an on-again, off-again couple as they went through high school and their start in colleges across town from each other.

Chris played basketball at Wright State and Holly, like much of the rest of her family, went to the University of Dayton and was a cheerleader. By Chris’ junior year they were back together for good.

“I won the lottery that day we got connected,” he said the other day as he was making his early morning commute from the family’s home in Burbank, California to Santa Ana, where he’s the head of the finance team at Ducommun, Inc. “Ever since then I’ve enjoyed staring at my winning ticket – my wife, my kids and the whole situation.”

And when he’s looking at his kids – Carrie, Phillip and Christina, who’s known as Cricket – he very well may be seeing them on a TV show, in a movie or a commercial.

All three are young actors with an ever-growing list of credits.

Carrie, who’s 24, has the deepest resume. She had a significant role in the movie “The Yellow Birds” which starred Jennifer Anniston, Alden Ehrenreich and Tye Sheridan. She was in the HBO series “Big Little Lies,” which featured Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, and has appeared in other movies and several TV shows.

Phillip is a 22-year-old actor with a growing interest in writing and directing. He debuted in the 2013 movie “Last Vegas” starring Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline. Just recently, he finished a writing program at UCLA and he’s directed his own short film, “Saved by Daylight.”

But the brightest spotlight right now shines on 20-year-old Cricket, who is one of the stars of the new TV show “Big Shot,” which is streaming on Disney+. It stars John Stamos as a mercurial college basketball coach who was fired from his job for one too many blow-ups and ends up coaching at an elite all-girls high school where Cricket is one of his players.

From left: Carrie Wampler, Cricket Wampler and Phillip Wampler (back).CONTRIBUTED
From left: Carrie Wampler, Cricket Wampler and Phillip Wampler (back).CONTRIBUTED

Chris – who coached Tipp City High School to a 68-44 record in five seasons in the late 1990s – thinks Stamos has done “a great job” portraying a coach:

“He’s some kind of cross between Bobby Knight with his actions and Rick Pitino with his looks and demeanor.”

He gives Cricket – who did play two seasons on an all-boys hoops team at a local YMCA – high marks, as well.

Along with her acting and dancing chops, she brings some impressive sports genes to her role.

Chris – who was an All-Ohio player for Frank Goldsberry at Tipp City – averaged over 20 points a game as a junior and a senior.

Although recruited by Yale, he chose Wright State – then coached by Ralph Underhill and Jim Brown – and several years later spent six seasons as the color commentator for radio broadcasts of Raiders games.

Cricket’s maternal grandfather, the late John Swisher, was the scorekeeper for UD basketball games in the mid-1960s. He’s in the Greater Dayton Baseball Hall of Fame and was a football coach a Meadowdale High School. He and his wife Merrily, who still lives in Tipp City, were longtime basketball season ticket holders at UD, just as Chris’ late parents, Phil and Pat, had WSU tickets.

And then there are Cricket’s first cousins: Justin Ahrens, the 6-foot-6, long-range shooter for Ohio State and his older brother Kyle, also 6-6, who played 117 games for the Michigan State Spartans.

“I’m lucky that I’ve had so much basketball around me already,” Cricket said the other day. “But with my dad and cousins watching, I’ve tried not to stress about it and I think I’ve gotten their stamp of approval.”

Chris said their current life – three kids pursing acting and directing careers and the family relocated to the Los Angeles area – “came out of left field. Holly and I were these Midwestern kids who grew up in sports families.”

‘Life is a journey’

Actually the whole adventure began on something of a fluke, Holly said:

“When we were living in Tipp City, my mom would bring over these article from the newspaper for me to see.

“One morning she left one on the table about someone’s daughter getting married. But I looked on the wrong side of the paper and read about a modelling and acting expo they were having in Huber Heights. The hook was an appearance by one of the stars of a Disney show our kids watched.

“Carrie always had an interest in the Disney shows, so when heard one of the stars was coming in, she said, ‘I want to meet that girl and she could tell me how to be an actor.’”

Phillip went along and he and Carrie started taking acting classes in Huber Heights, where it soon was suggested they attend a national expo in Dallas. The kids’ talents were noticed there, but the Wamplers were told they needed to move to Los Angeles for their children to really break into the business.

“At first it seemed so far-fetched and some of our family and, I’m sure, people in town thought it was the craziest thing they’d ever heard,” Holly said.

After considerable debate, the family began the “journey” that saw Holly moving to California with Carrie and Phillip for parts of three years (2008-11) to try to get a toehold.

It was a herculean challenge. Initially they lived in a hotel and Holly home schooled the kids, while also taking them to auditions – sometimes seven or eight a day – and helping them learn their lines.

Actresses Hayley Orrantia (left) and Carrie Wampler on the set of The Goldbergs. CONTRIBUTED
Actresses Hayley Orrantia (left) and Carrie Wampler on the set of The Goldbergs. CONTRIBUTED

A major problem was her reluctance to drive on the L.A. freeways. But they found a godsend in Miles and Peggy Shearer, who had gone to Fairview High School in Dayton with her parents and now lived in L.A. They chauffeured Holly and the kids in those early days.

At first, Cricket – who was shy and had shunned any overtures to try acting herself – stayed in Tipp City with Chris, who was a certified accountant with A.O. Smith Electrical Products.

But on her first L.A. visit, Cricket – then a fourth grader at L T Ball Intermediate School – had a change of heart when her siblings’ manager asked her again.

“I think I shocked them all when I said, ‘Yeah I want to try it,” Cricket laughed.

“She never went back home after that,” Holly said.

With the rest of his family “all in” as he put it, Chris said he found himself at a crossroads when A O Smith was sold:

“Tipp City was the right place for Holly and me for 40 to 45 years, but for the last 12 to 15 years L.A. has been the right place for our family.

“Like I said, ‘Life is a journey’ and you need to celebrate it when and where you can.”

Still connected to Miami Valley

Chris said his family has approached this venture as a team – pulling for each other to succeed – and in so doing, they use many of the concepts he learned from a lifetime around basketball.

Although he’d grown up at Dayton Flyers fan, he said Wright State was a “terrific school” for him. He was on the team when the program elevated to the NCAA Division I level and he started all 28 games in his final 1989-90 season.

One of his favorite memories is the Raiders’ 101-99 win over the Flyers at a sold-out UD Arena his senior year.

Chris Wampler, a 6-foot-3 guard for Wright State, from the Raiders' media guide for the 1988-89 season. CONTRIBUTED
Chris Wampler, a 6-foot-3 guard for Wright State, from the Raiders' media guide for the 1988-89 season. CONTRIBUTED

“I knew we weren’t going to knock them off their mantle in terms of their storied history, their athletic lore and their following,” he said. “They’re still one of the top 20 places to watch a game and that’s for all the right reasons. They have a fabulous program.

“But for that one night, on the road, in the Arena, we walked into their house and gave them more than just a run for their money. We got ‘em!

“We surprised a lot of people that night and I think it was important for our program and the perception of it.”

In 2006, he became the broadcast partner of Chris Collins, the play-by-play announcer for Raiders games. It was coach Brad Brownell’s first year as well and Chris called it “a magical season” as WSU went 23-10 and made the NCAA Tournament for just the second time as a D-I program.

Even today in California, he said he and his family listen to the broadcasts of Raiders games by Collins and his former coach Jim Brown. And when they make one of their may visits back home, they try to see a Raiders game and one at UD, too.

“We haven’t lost those connections and influences from our past,” Chris said.

He said one Midwestern trait that their children have fully embraced is a real work ethic.

“But what impresses me most is their resilience, their confidence, their ability to hear the word ‘No’ and still say, ‘That’s OK, let’s move on to the next audition, the next role,’” he said.

“I don’t know if I could do it like that. When you play sports, you like to feel you’re succeeding more than you’re failing. It’s different in this business.

“But they’ve kept the right attitude and I give all the credit in the world for that to Holly.”

And that has made the successes that much sweeter.

He remembers the first breakthrough actually came with Cricket. She would be in the first of some 45 commercials the Wamplers have appeared in:

“I was still back in Tipp City watching 60 Minutes and all of a sudden it went to break and I see Cricket pop on the screen in a Sears commercial. At that moment it was still surreal. I was like, ‘What just happened?’”

But now, as the appearances in TV shows and movies have accumulated, he said from “an out of body experience” to feeling “OK, this is some semblance of normal now.”

He started to laugh:

“And you think, ‘This is pretty cool.’”

Cricket Wampler (center)  and her parents Chris and Holly celebrate her dance performance in Glendale, CA. CONTRIBUTED
Cricket Wampler (center) and her parents Chris and Holly celebrate her dance performance in Glendale, CA. CONTRIBUTED

‘It was just like going to the movies’

While Chris makes his daily 55-mile commute – which can take anywhere from 75 minutes to 2 ½ hours one way – Holly is back in Burbank, the cornerstone of the children’s acting efforts.

On the morning we spoke, she was about to bring some clothes to Carrie, who had an audition at NBC that would be followed by a photo shoot.

When Cricket landed the role of Samantha “Giggles” Finkman in Big Shot, she had no idea the COVID pandemic was about to hit and with the continued shutdowns and pauses that followed, it would take a year and a half to finish filming the season.

The show debuted April 16 and is getting good reviews.

Even in these COVID times they were able to have a premier atop the parking garage of The Grove shopping and entertainment complex in Beverly Hills.

“Because of the protocols, they did it like a drive-in movie,” Holly said. “Each cast member was allowed three cars with two people in them. They came and got Cricket for the red carpet and everybody else stayed in their cars and they brought you food and everything. It was actually a lot of fun.

“It was just like going to the movies.”

And that brings this story full circle.

After all, it began at the Englewood Cinema 37 years ago.

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