Beatrice Culliton d’Aquin is the athlete-scholar of KC Star
Kansas City’s top female basketball rookie visited two college campuses during the season. That’s it. She would have felt guilty, she told her parents, for wasting other people’s time, even if she hadn’t made up her mind yet.
So it stands to reason that Oklahoma and Northwestern thought they had a good chance of attracting Beatrice Culliton, a 6-3 post player finishing her senior year at St. Thomas Aquinas.
The trip to Oklahoma came first. They provided Culliton with a tour of the campus athletics wing, including a sprawling 150,000 square foot indoor facility, before offering him a Sooners jersey to try on for size. A walk through downtown academia followed, including a meeting with counselors willing to guide Culliton in his desire to major in pre-medicine.
Before the visit was over, however, Culliton made another request — one that aspiring college athletes don’t typically include in their recruiting trips.
“My only request,” she said, “was that they show me around the library.”
To understand demand is to understand Beatrice Culliton. She may have recently capped off her high school basketball career with a third Kansas Class 5A state championship — which likely would have been a fourth if the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t wiped out her sophomore playoff season. – but she can’t get away from her first call.
She was wearing diapers when she first picked up a basketball, sure, but it still came after she started reading – on her own, by the way. Her parents turned to see their daughter sitting on the floor, a book cover spread out in each hand, talking aloud to herself. Some traits don’t leave you. On a recent 10-day trip to Florida, she read through five novels, and what most of her age would call homework, she called a vacation.
The background to all of this is a bit of a surprise – Culliton was named Kansas City’s top female basketball player while graduating from Aquin with summa cum laude honors. Not a B grade on his resume.
She is The Star’s Female Athlete of the Year. In the fall, she will begin her college career – basketball and college – in Oklahoma.
The library passed the test.
“If you’ve never been there,” she said. “You have to go see him sometime.”
Culliton insists she wasn’t much of an elementary school basketball player — too big for her own good, she says — but it suited her the best.
Following her mother’s advice, she preferred never to be the best player on her team. It would make things too easy. She’s been up to the challenge for a long time — taking the toughest classes she can find on the program or surrounding herself with top talent on the basketball court.
But she ran into a problem late in her high school career.
She wasn’t just the best player on her team. She was the best in town.
Culliton won the DiRenna Award, given to the best player in the Kansas City metro area, after averaging 15.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game for the Saints, who finished 23-2.
“What she really likes is being better this week than last week and better last week than two weeks ago,” said her father, Edward Culliton. “She appreciates the progression of this one.”
Culliton started for the varsity team for all four seasons. Her coach, Rick Hetzel, remembers how long it took him to decide he would move her to college during her freshman year.
“Oh, I think it was about five or 10 minutes after the first practice,” he said.
Culliton is an old school player in a new school game. As strategy gravitates past the three-point line, all of its production is in the paint.
“Big hands, big feet,” Hetzel said.
A school that has won six straight state titles calls Culliton its all-time best rebounder and best field goal percentage. She finished fifth in career points.
It runs in the family. His grandmother broke an Oklahoma high school record by scoring 58 points in a game. Her mom played. Her brothers were college athletes, and given that they are nine and 10 years her senior, she has an explanation for how she thrived playing a physical game.
That and, well, she’s a bit competitive. The board game Clue is banned from family game nights, for which she willingly takes responsibility. If you talk to the family, it does not go unnoticed.
On the ground, you might not guess. In a career standout, Culliton’s standout game came against Blue Springs in a Division I rookie showdown. She topped 20 points and 20 rebounds that day. But those who saw her play for the first time noticed something quite different. After a basketball went out of bounds, Culliton chased it, ran past a few players, and handed it to the official.
And then she started again.
And then again.
There’s a kindness towards her in a game that requires intensity, evident as she often reaches out to help an opposing player up. In practice, if a teammate needs to go an extra lap, Culliton will get on the baseline so the player doesn’t run alone.
“When you see her, you know she’s a good player,” Hetzel said. “But what really draws you in is how much the kids like it.”
A road trip was rarely accompanied by silence, whether it lasted a few hours or a few minutes. Culliton would sit in the back row, nestled in her car seat, and ask her parents questions.
The requests were so curious — or perhaps so out of left field — that her mother started posting them on social media.
Asked to share an example or two for this story, Lisa Culliton declined.
“Oh, thank goodness,” Beatrice said. “I trained her well.”
Lisa had tried to stick with the prototype parent who can give their young child any answer, but ultimately, with Beatrice still in elementary school, she had to give up.
“I don’t know the answer to that question,” she finally said.
Fast-forward to her senior year at Aquinas, and Beatrice’s specialist statistics professor, Brendan Curran, has received notice of recommendations for the scholar-athlete honor from The Star. If you have someone to nominate…
Four sentences into a persuasive article, he mentioned something familiar.
“She asks good clarifying questions because she’s curious to really understand the content,” Curran said, later adding, “A lot of questions want to know how many points something is worth or when an assignment is due. She always wanted to understand Why.”
Culliton graduated from high school with straight Aces. In fact, in four years, she has never scored worse than 92% in any of her classes.
To be fair, she had been preparing for high school for quite some time. As a toddler, rather than playing with something like a dollhouse or maybe a tea service, Beatrice was mimicking a classroom. The teacher, the students, all that.
Before celebrating her second birthday, and her dad swears it’s no exaggeration, she started talking with her parents about becoming a doctor one day. Both parents work in healthcare, so it’s a natural landing point, but they just knew they had a gifted kid.
She has become more than gifted. She became curious and immune to boredom. Aquinas offers students a free period during the day, which many use as an opportunity to catch up on homework or perhaps study for an upcoming exam. Afraid to relax, Culliton signed up to be a National Honors Society tutor during this time.
“I’m terrible with free time – I don’t know what to do with myself,” Culliton said. “I just want to find something productive to do.”
Volunteering has become a regular part of her schedule, crammed in like a necessity. She coaches for the Special Olympics. There is tutoring. And then there are the occasional one-off projects, like those at Children’s Mercy Hospital or when she volunteered to help children with special needs.
Within 24 hours of the latter, the facilitator called her mother.
We would like to hire him.
People gravitate towards her, her high school coach says — her teammates, her classmates, anyone who meets her.
She moved to Oklahoma last month. We already feel at home. helps that she has family there, including an older brother. And while that might give her a head start as she prepared for her college basketball career, there was also another draw.
She’s a little closer to this library.
In my house, indeed.
This story was originally published June 5, 2022 5:00 a.m.