Joanne Culverhouse was an all-American at Western High School in Las Vegas’ and a scholarship athlete at University of Nevada, Reno, competing in volleyball, basketball and softball at both levels. After college, she continued to compete in triathlons and half marathons. “My life was sports,” she said.
But during her first year as principal of Laguna Beach High, Culverhouse was the school’s number one spectator. Athletic Director Mike Churchill, who has worked for several principals, has never seen one so involved in sports. “It’s not that way anywhere else,” he said. “Not even close.”
Culverhouse attends every game she can, even though the standard administrator’s playbook lacks a chapter on the topic. “I do not remember my principal coming to any of my athletic events,” she said. “I go because I enjoy it.”
Three-sport star and 2012 female athlete of the year Marina Paul said, “I can’t really recall a game where she wasn’t there. Even at our soccer games in the winter time, when it was freezing out, she was still there.”
Churchill respects Culverhouse’s commitment to athletes. “A lot of people will tell you ‘I’ll be there to support you,’ but she really is the real deal.”
The fifth-year AD also appreciates the support she has given coaches. “She wants to know how they’re doing, and what she can do to help out,” Churchill said.
The old school AD and his sports-crazy boss have a great relationship. “He’s a true coach,” Culverhouse said. “We share the passion of athletics.”
Culverhouse was a fixture on the Guyer Field sidelines during the football team’s record-setting run last season. Her enthusiasm for the game was so infectious that Coach Churchill invited her on one of his team’s road trips. “Man, she was all over that,” he said.
After the game on the ride home, she shared in the victory celebration with the players. “She joined right in. She loved it,” said Churchill. “The kids were just so touched by that.”
The coach said he already has plans to take her on the road next season. “She’s our good luck charm,” he said.
Growing up in the desert, Culverhouse didn’t know much about water polo before becoming the principal at a school that lives and breathes the sport. During her first game, Culverhouse stood next to school counselor Nichole Rosa, who played for Ventura High and San Jose State University. “Once she explained the strategy, that it’s very much like basketball in the water, I was able to track some of the plays in the water,” she said. “I was hooked after the first match.”
With more than two thirds of Laguna’s 975 students competing in sports, involvement is not an issue. Still, Culverhouse is always encouraging everyone to be a part of something, whether it’s sports, the arts or music. “I think it’s critical for kids at the high school to be involved,” she said. “Sports was my connection to school. It kept me focused on my academics,” and “helped me form my leadership skills,” she said.
Maybe that’s why last May, Newsweek ranked Laguna 338 out of more than 2,300 public high schools in the country for academic excellence based on graduation rate, test scores and college acceptance.
First at El Morro Elementary then Thurston Middle School, the veteran administrator has been principal to some of her current students for their entire school careers. Luckily, Culverhouse has a knack for remembering names. “She makes you feel important,” said Paul. “She’s there to help us, and make sure we become great students and great people.”
Culverhouse subscribes to the late UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success philosophy, and tries to exemplify the pyramid’s character traits that lead to competitive greatness. “I just would hope that I could be a role model to students, especially to the athletes,” she said.