Staff Photo: John Bohn Chris Culpepper, has returned as Athletic Director at North Gwinnett High School.
SUWANEE -- As retirements go, Chris Culpepper started his off right.
When he left as athletic and activities director at North Gwinnett following the 2007 school year, Culpepper and his wife, Laurie, went on a 10-month RV journey across the United States, Canada and up the Alaskan Highway to the country's northernmost state.
"Unbelievable. It's the most beautiful drive," Culpepper said. "The Alaskan Highway is an adventure in itself. It's so much fun. They say 90 percent take a cruise, 8 percent fly and 2 percent drive to Alaska, so we are part of that 2 percent."
But he never really left North Gwinnett.
Part of the road trip took the couple to Las Vegas where they met up with other Gwinnett County people and watched the Bulldogs' state championship football loss at Lowndes.
"We had the wall blown up (with a projection of the game) and had a whole bunch of people rooting for North Gwinnett," Culpepper said.
When he returned home it didn't take long for Culpepper to re-embrace the community he's called home since 1991. He took a part time job as the director of the North Gwinnett community school, still attended most high school sporting events and kept his presence strong in Suwanee.
"I was very engaged. I live here in the community as well," Culpepper said. "I am familiar with the people of Suwanee and have worked with almost all of the coaches here at North before I left, most of them are still around. The one I miss the most is Mark Karen."
Which brings us to now.
Karen left North Gwinnett to take the athletic director position in Hilton Head, S.C., following last season, reopening Culpepper's old job. Culpepper signed up.
"When this came open, I said yes I would be glad to come back and work with these people," Culpepper said. "It's kind of a win-win when you work with good people. It's like if you have a bunch of good players, who wants to coach them? I do."
Not much had changed at North Gwinnett during the four school years Culpepper was away. Teams were still winning, not many coaches had left and the slight rule changes were a quick study.
The stability of Suwanee's oldest high school is in part a tribute to Culpepper's initial tenure. He helped establish the link between the school and the community, supported every program and demanded success.
"I guess the big part there is the communication between the youth levels to the booster club level and to the community," Culpepper said. "Keeping that communication where these are the expectations that we have of our program. We understand how they run their programs, we understand how they are benefitting our kids and making the community understand how we benefit kids."
Working in the community school only strengthened his ties to the youth community, but Culpepper's is a life of coaching and impacting youth and high school athletes.
In stints at Briarcliff, Cross Keys and Redan High Schools, Culpepper coached football and basketball, including leading the girls varsity at Redan. The two-sport college athlete at Gilford College in Greeneboro, N.C., has been a football offensive coordinator and a youth coach for baseball, softball and soccer.
Even now, at age 60, Culpepper oozes energy. He gushes easily about the athletics at North Gwinnett and quickly credits the coaches in place.
It's not the Alaskan Highway, but the journey at North Gwinnett seems to excited Culpepper just the same.
"I am having fun, I am enjoying it," he said. "It's a pleasure to be here. My wife knows that I am addicted to high school sports and that's OK with her as long as I am not addicted to anything else."