The ‘Perfect Fit’ for London Culbreath
It was a nerve-racking time for McKinney ISD's most decorated athletes, as classmates, parents and staff all around the McKinney North campus were watching fellow athletes announce where they would take their talents for the next four years. In room G114 of McKinney North High School, Jessica Richards, the cross country and girls track and field head coach, hrriedly setup the room as London Culbreath entered to take the stage.
Coach Richard scrambled, trying to figure out what table setup would better represent McKinney North for this moment; the best being a table with a bunch of school swag on it. She paused momentarily as more people filled the room and she set school pennants along the front of Culbreath – Baylor, Arkansas, Baylor, Arkansas.Checking to make sure the logo cake was set, the McKinney North-themed balloons were aligned just right, and lastly making sure the reveal clothing was fully tucked under thick, heavy winter jackets she stepped to the side and let London take center stage.
Momma Culbreath definitely feeling every degree of the 72 in the room: "It is hot in here," she said with a smirk while fanning herself.
As the minutes ticked down, anxious classmates and parents tried entering the locked door. Three-fifteen passed by and the attempts grew more frequently.
Finally, people were allowed into the room and the faint murmur outside in the hall engulfed the classroom. One by one, London greeted friends with hugs and laughter as she anxiously awaited her time to make her announcement.
The center stage definitely got to Culbreath, for after a minute of thanking everyone, she forgot the script she wanted to go with – all with the vibrant smile and charm people around the school and program have known her for.
It came down to two programs for London: Baylor or Arkansas. And it wasn't easy for her to decide – it never is if you ask any athlete deciding on where to spend the next four years of their athletic career.
"Either one would be a great fit," she said. "But there's always a perfect fit."
And from there, London unzipped her black jumper jacket, revealing an Arkansas Razorbacks cardinal hoodie to the delight of everyone in attendance, regardless of which school they thought she was going to pick.
"I really just wanted a program that was challenging. I wanted a strong culture of really strong women. They're always up there in the NCAAs, and I thought that would be so amazing to be a part of such a strong team. I really loved Coach [Lance] Harter and the campus," Culbreath said.
It had been nearly a full week since London made her decision to go with Arkansas, something she said she wanted to have finished so she could strictly focus on State and take home her fourth straight UIL 5A Girls title.
Culbreath said she kept the inner-circle information very small, limiting those who knew of her choice to Coach Richards, her parents and her best friend. She also admitted having everyone ask her where she was going was tough to deal with, but she able to hold out.
Ultimately, Culbreath fell short of that four-peat, but her high school career is nothing short of 'amazing.'
"I feel really blessed to have all those accomplishments. I'm super excited to see what the future holds. I think at the college level, I'll be able to grow as an athlete so much more. With all these things I've accomplished, I'm just eager to see what else I have to unlock," Culbreath said.
Dealing with all that on-field pressure as well as navigating through the recruiting process was aided by Coach Richards, who has been there as a Division I athlete and help more than 10 other athletes get to this point.
"It's exciting to help her on the journey," Richards said. "There's nothing better than getting to [continue your athletic career] for the next four years. I'm excited for her to be in a program like Coach Harter's built around the girls that are in there. The atmosphere there, I think she'll excel even more than she already has, and be pushed."
The next chapter for Culbreath is the spring track and field season and finishing her career with a 'bang.' Coach Richards admitted there's an elephant in the room with how things finished at State, but the Culbreath and the team are going to take three weeks to rest and recoup.
"I think once she made this decision and once the season was over, it was kind of a double weight lifted. I think once we rest and regroup and we go back to the drawing board and figure out some things," Richards added.
The long-term goal for Culbreath is to make the most of her endeavors at Arkansas and parlay her existing accomplishments and skills into being a pro or Olympic athlete or maybe even a coach.
"They've had so many alumni that have run pro or in the Olympics – I never wanted to say 'what if' – and I felt at Arkansas, I could reach my full potential."