The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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September 24, 2013

Carrying on family traditions

Culicertos bring their competitiveness to Herd soccer

There was no question where Danny Culicerto’s loyalties lie. He played baseball at Marshall University for head coach Jack Cook. He met his wife, Kathy, a Hurricane native who ran track for the Thundering Herd, at the Huntington school. His son, Pete, played football for coach Mark Snyder.

But when the time came for each of his and Kathy’s daughters to choose where to play college soccer, the decision was all theirs.

“WVU was actually in our house,” he said. “But I think the girls (Kristine and Kelly) wanted to follow in Pete’s footsteps.

“Even with Pete, we never really talked about Marshall. They just all knew about it, because that’s where their parents went to school.”

Like their brother — and their parents — Kristine and Kelly Culicerto chose the kelly green and white of Marshall to further their soccer careers. Danny was certainly happy with the decision, but Kathy never masked her wishes as well as he did.

“My wife brainwashed them,” Danny said, laughing. “I let them make the decision.”

“I have a lot of relatives who went to Marshall,” she said. “My uncle (Don Perry) played basketball there and my great uncle (Robert P. Alexander) was the Dean of the College of Business. Growing up, I always cheered for them, and that was where I decided I wanted to go to school.”

Kristine and Kelly are now carrying on that tradition. But the fact that they play a sport at Marshall isn’t as big as the fact that they play a sport, period.

In the Culicerto family, that much is basically a given.

You would be hard-pressed to find a family as competitive — not to mention large — as the Culicertos. Kristine’s and Kelly’s grandparents, Nancy and Pete, have nine children, 31 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. And it seems all 48 offspring play or have played sports.

A breakdown of the children goes:

n Ed, coaches the state championship baseball team at Northside High in Roanoke, Va.;

n Phil, earned a scholarship to play quarterback at Virginia Tech and later was the head coach at Hampden-Sydney;

n Danny, played baseball at Marshall from 1981-85;

n Joe, was an all-state football player at Woodrow Wilson High School;

n Kenny, played baseball at Woodrow;

n Robbie, was an all-state football player at Woodrow;

n Vince, was a multi-sport athlete at Woodrow who played baseball at West Virginia Tech, and is currently the head football coach at Shady Spring;

n Barbara, was a member of a state championship tennis team at Woodrow who eventually went into dance;

n Gina, was also on the state title tennis team and played the sport at Concord.

No pressure. Right, Kelly?

“Being part of this family, I feel like I have to step up and play my part,” said Kelly, a sophomore midfielder/forward for the Thundering Herd.

Actually, any pressure would only be inherent to being part of such an athletic and competitive family. None of the Culicertos are lacking for support.

“It’s good because they all support you and know what it’s like to be an athlete,” Kristine said. “They are with you 100 percent in everything.”

That includes the girls, who only seem to be outnumbered. There are actually 20 males and 20 females among the children and grandchildren, but when thinking of past Culicerto athletes, guys seem to come to mind first.

“The majority of the athletes in our family are guys,” Kristine said. “A few of my cousins who are girls played basketball in college.”

“Most of them are all my uncles and my dad, who played baseball here,” Kelly said. “Being a girl, it’s actually better. It’s more of an honor.”

Pete and Nancy show their support, getting to as many Marshall women’s soccer matches as they can.

“We went to VMI to watch them, and we went to Marshall when they opened up the new stadium (Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex),” said Pete, who coached the Flying Eagles to the Class AAA state football championship in 1977.

As competitive as the Culicertos are, it stands to reason they would be attracted to similarly athletic people. Danny, of course, married Kathy, who ran track at Hurricane High before running for one season at Marshall. Angie Culicerto, the wife of Pete’s grandson, Tony, is a physical education teacher at Park Middle and is a former Raleigh County Teacher of the Year.

“Anytime you see kids who are competitive like (Kristine and Kelly), you have to look at their mom and dad,” Pete said.

“I think our family got so competitive from being a big family. They played everything in every season, whether it was baseball or wiffleball, football, basketball. They were all involved in sports.”

Family get-togethers can get interesting. Pete said the two big days each year are Labor Day and Thanksgiving. The whole family — or as many of them as is possible — converge on a camp in Richwood that everyone owns a piece of for a pig roast where they all reminisce and engage in good natured competition.

“My dad’s side (of the family) is huge,” Kelly said. “I have, like, 30-some cousins. It’s nice to be with all of them.”

“It’s crazy,” said Kristine, who came back this season after missing all of 2012 after foot surgery. “There is all kinds of food, all kinds of games. It’s competitive, of course.”

And, as should probably be expected, there is plenty of trash talk.

“Yeah. There’s words,” Kristine said, laughing. “All the time. They say we look like men sometimes. It’s OK, though. They know we work hard.”

Kristine and Kelly began carrying on the family tradition four hours from the Culicerto epicenter of Beckley. Like their brother Pete — named after his grandfather, obviously — Kristine and Kelly played at Butler High in Charlotte, N.C., before moving on to Marshall.

“I thought they might choose a North Carolina school,” said Kathy, who still has family in Milton and Hurricane. “I was surprised when they said, ‘No, I want to go to Marshall.’”

Danny and Kathy attend as many games as possible, which requires fairly extensive travel time in Conference USA. They will get a reprieve, however, on Oct. 25, when Kristine and Kelly come to them — Marshall will visit new conference member UNC Charlotte on that day.

Kristine — a senior defender/forward who will get to come back next year after being granted a medical redshirt because of her surgery — is tied for the team lead with three goals. She had two in a win over Kent State and she scored the golden goal in a 1-0 overtime victory over Liberty on Sept. 15.

Kelly has yet to score but has started all eight games for the 5-2-1 Herd going into Friday’s conference opener against another league newcomer, Old Dominion, in Huntington.

Being competitive may come with the Culicerto territory, but Kristine and Kelly are blazing their own trail.

“We were the first ones in our family to play soccer, and we went the whole way with it,” Kristine said. “Everyone was on board with us, like, ‘Go on with everything. We’ll be right behind you.’”

That’s one huge support group.

— E-mail: gfauber@

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