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Culp finally gets his due

Late Camden High girls’ basketball coach will be inducted into SCACA Hall of Fame

Posted: April 12, 2018 11:49 a.m.
Updated: April 13, 2018 1:00 a.m.
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THE LATE MIKE CULP (second from left) is joined by his family --- sons Kevin (left), Michael, and his wife, B.J. --- during an on-court celebration at Camden High in 2004, his final season as the school’s girls’ basketball coach. In 2011, a year after his passing, the school named the basketball court, the Michael G. Culp Court, in his memory.

During his 34 seasons sitting at the head of the Camden girls’ basketball bench, the late Mike Culp and his life were open books.

More often than not, the dean of area coaches was decked out in a (North) Carolina blue blazer and, sometimes, would wear a tie with depictions of the University of North Carolina Rams’ mascot scattered throughout. His Rockettes even took the court to the strains of the UNC fight song for home games.

On senior night and the final games of the season, Culp would get unabashedly emotional to the point that he would have to temporarily interrupt his post-game comments due to his voice cracking while his eyes welled with tears as he talked about his girls.

On 538 occasions, Culp shook the hand of an opposing coach after leading his team to victory. Those wins were duly noted. A man who would break up with laughter at the telling of a joke or, would get so giddy, himself, at telling a story that he would stop to compose himself, Mike Culp was everyman. If you didn’t like him, it may have been time to check yourself.

To this day, though, Culp, who passed away following a lengthy illness on Jan. 27, 2010 at the age of 63, carried a deep, dark secret known only to his family and, possibly, a few very select friends. Tuesday morning, a day after his father was selected to enter the South Carolina Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Culp’s youngest son, Kevin, let the cat out of the bag.

“Some people might know this …,” Culp said following a brief pause. “Everybody knows of dad’s love for North Carolina. The man idolized Dean Smith and in his later years, he had his bathroom painted North Carolina blue, he had a North Carolina shower curtain and he probably even had North Carolina toilet paper.

“Growing up in Charlotte, though, when he was young, he started out as a fan of the Duke Blue Devils. He might roll over in his grave for letting that out but, it’s a true story.”

The rest of the Mike Culp legend is there for all to see. When he retired as the head girls’ basketball coach following the completion of the 2003-04 season, his 538 victories were a school record. That mark was since been broken by Culp’s longtime friend and colleague, Roger Smoak, who racked up 593 wins in his 42 season as the head boys’ tennis coach at CHS before he retired at the completion of the 2013 campaign.

Culp’s victories at CHS came in 794 games; a winning percentage of .678. None of the 538 triumphs, however, topped a 53-37 win over Midland Valley in the 1981-82 4A state championship game played inside Frank McGuire Arena at the Carolina Coliseum.

Culp will become the second Rockette head coach, to be enshrined into the SCACA Hall of Fame. He follows the late former football and baseball head coach Lindsay Pierce (1994), the late Rockette head coach Hulan “Pop” Small (2001) and Culp’s close friend, neighbor and former boss, former Bulldog head football coach and athletic director Billy Ammons, who was a member of the Hall of Fame class of 2016.

Additionally, Camden High graduates Barbara Wilkes and Ted Whitaker were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999 and 2001, respectively.

Culp is part of a five-member class which includes Lee Central girls basketball coach Dorothy Fortune, former Conway football coach Chuck Jordan, Hillcrest volleyball coach Carol Lynn Avant and the late Landrum baseball coach and athletic director Steve Coley.

The quintet will be inducted July 22, at SCACA’s 26th annual awards banquet at Charleston Area Convention Center.

Ammons said he knew it was only a matter of time before Culp joined him in an elite fraternity of the best men and women to have coached high school student-athletes in the Palmetto State.

“I’m surprised it took this long,” Ammons said. “He certainly holds a special place at Camden High School. “It was just a matter of when with Mike. The record which he had was just unmatched when it comes to girls’ basketball in South Carolina. It was not a matter of if it was going to happen but, when for Mike.”

Culp’s coaching and teaching --- he was a social studies teacher who served as head of that department while at CHS --- career did not start at Camden. Before accepting the girls’ basketball coaching position at the school, he served as the head boys and girls basketball coach at Baron DeKalb High School for one season after graduating from Western Carolina University.

The statistics which his father accumulated, said Kevin Culp, are what they are and will always been there for people to see. What went on behind the scenes with Mike Culp is what made him stand out away from the basketball court.

“The numbers speak for themselves; the number of years he coached, the number of wins and things like that. I think people remember him more for the type person he was, though,” Kevin Culp said

“He was a compassionate man. He didn’t want any enemies and he treated everybody fairly and with respect. He was well-known throughout the community for helping people in times of need and he knew that would come back to him. I don’t know if it’s karma or, whatever, but he knew that if he was good to people that, in turn, they were going to be good to him.”

For five years, Natalie Jeffcoat played for Culp. As a senior in 1992, she was named as the Gatorade Player of the Year in girls’ basketball in South Carolina before going on to sign and play at the University of South Carolina. Now the head girls’ basketball coach at Camden High, her first coaching position coming out of college was an assistant under Culp at her high school alma mater.

Jeffcoat said that while it was strange coaching alongside her former coach, it was an experience which she treasures to this day.

“It was different being on the other side and seeing the preparation that went into practices, scouting for games and things like that,” she said.

“From an X’s and O’s standpoint, he always made sure that we were fundamentally sound and that we played hard. I would like to think that those were trademarks of our teams. We had kids who played hard from the beginning to the end. That is certainly something that I’ve taken from him; I want my kids to play hard, too.”

“There couldn’t be any easier guy to work with. The girls’ basketball program at Camden was in excellent hands with Mike,” Ammos said of what Culp brought to the table. “You didn’t have to worry about a thing with Mike. The most important thing, though, was how much he cared for his players. He was always trying to get the best out of them … he always looked out for his girls. I admired him for it.”

Speaking at his father’s funeral more than seven years ago, it was Kevin Culp who delivered the eulogy. During the course of his time behind the pulpit, he said that he and his older brother Michael, who now lives in the Charleston area with his own family, had “hundreds of sisters” when they were growing up in the Edgewood and Sunny Hill areas of Camden. Mike Culp’s wife, B.J. who still lives in Camden, became a mother figure to those players who may not have had a mother in their life while Mike became a father figure to those in need of one.

“My sisters were Cassandra Lewis, Natalie Funderburk (Jeffcoat), the Ammons girls and other girls. Some of them were my baby-sitters,” Kevin Culp said with a laugh. “Those girls were like dad’s family and he would try to help them any way he could and not just sports-wise but in school. He would give them rides if they needed a ride somewhere. He really made that connection as far as it being an extended family.”

As the younger of the two Culp brothers, Kevin would often tag along with his father. He attended afternoon practices and games on Tuesday and Friday nights. In the summers, he would accompany the Rockettes to Louie O’Gorman’s basketball camps and to AAU trips. 

There is still a bond which exists between the former Rockettes and Kevin Culp. “I still see some of those girls to this day and there is a much different connection with them than with other people who pass through or, who you have know through your life,” he said. “There really is still a family-type love involved. That’s the way dad approached it.”

Family is a word which often pops up when people talk about Mike Culp. Ammons said there was nothing more important than family, friends and team members for Culp. He said the new generation of coaches can learn a lot from the way Mike Culp went about his daily life, both on and away from the hardwood.

“I just think about what a good friend he was, period,” he said. “He cared about people. He gave his best in everything he did. And, the special way he treated his players, everybody needs to take a look at that and make sure you are doing everything like Mike would do for his players. He looked out for them in school, outside of school, as well as on the basketball court. He set a good example for all coaches in doing everything that you could do for your players.”

In addition to his duties during the high school season, Mike Culp also coached AAU basketball teams in the spring and summer. When those squads needed funding to attend national tournaments, he would go door-to-door, soliciting help from the business community in order to defray the travel cost for players. Those trips to less-than-exotic locales became summer vacations for the Culp family.

“There were a lot of sacrifices me, my brother and my mom had to make. Dad tried to include us in everything he did so, our family vacations were to Clovis, New Mexico, Shreveport, Louisiana and places like that,” Kevin Culp said. “He made sure that he didn’t neglect his family like when he went to those places. We went along on those trips with him and he tried to make sure they were as a good a vacation as possible when there wasn’t basketball going on.”

When Kevin Culp, Ammons and Jeffcoat received word as to the honor which was to be bestowed on their father, friend and coach, they all felt more than a twinge of sadness that Mike Culp could not be here to enjoy the adulation surrounding his coaching career.

“What a great honor for the Culp family. I know that they missed out on a lot of things as a family. There were a lot of sacrifices that were involved,” Jeffcoat said. “I think it’s a great accomplishment for the entire Camden High program and for all the girls who were fortunate enough to have been a part of it.”

Kevin Culp said that, if his father were still alive, he would turn the spotlight away from himself and let those who were part of his career bask in the glow of this honor.

“I guess a few words come to mind, obviously, I’m proud of him. I think it’s well-deserved but I’m also disheartened that it didn’t get to enjoy this honor while he was still alive. This was an accomplishment that he strived for,” Kevin Culp said of his reaction to the news before seemingly channeling his late father and friend.

“Dad never was about himself, though. It was always ‘team this’ and ‘we.’ And, he always tried to deflect all his accomplishments to all the people who helped him attain them. That’s just the way he was.”

 

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