“Inside the mind of a runner: Fiona O’Keeffe”

(Published in the June 9, 2015 issue of The Davis Enterprise and online)

About: Throughout my years of high school running, I have established a strong rapport with my teammate, Fiona O’Keeffe—the fastest runner in the nation. I used an anecdotal lede that includes a terse exchange to immerse readers in the story.

Starting guns, blaring announcements, the wild cheers of thousands in the stands. The CIF State Track and Field Championships, held at Buchanan High in Clovis last Friday and Saturday, were hectic to say the least.

Separated from all the noise and excitement by a fence, at the bottom of a grassy hill, in the shade of some trees and a tent, lay a quiet girl with a mane of brown, curly hair.

Davis High star Fiona O’Keeffe listened to music, changed the spikes in her shoes and tuned out the rest of the world.

Her Blue Devil teammates made jokes, but she barely cracked a smile, staring off into the distance with her arms crossed.

“How are you feeling, Fiona?”

A pause. “All right.”



A casual observer wouldn’t know that the power in this girl’s legs had recently propelled her to one of the fastest times in the nation in the 3,200 meters, or that on this day, O’Keeffe hoped to win her first ever state track title.

“She gets pretty intense before races, but she handles it really well I think overall,” says her father, Malcolm. “She did a good job this week of kinda not focusing on it. We didn’t talk about it a lot at home. Junior year, the academics are really demanding, so she had a lot of late homework this week, which I think, in a weird way, helped.”

And at the meet itself, Dad says he tries “to support her, but sometimes the best support is just staying out of the way.”

After the nerve-wracking hours of waiting, O’Keeffe took to the track at last, dreaming of winning the championship and breaking the hallowed 10-minute barrier for the first time.

“I know that she hopes to win,” Malcolm said.

Alas, hopes and dreams sometimes have to give way to reality. And the reality was that over eight laps, O’Keeffe’s perennial rival Destiny Collins — from Great Oak High in Temecula — outraced her, finishing with a nation-leading time of 9:53.79 to O’Keeffe’s 10:01.14.

Even more impressive was that Collins had already run the 1,600 earlier in the day, taking third place.

O’Keeffe’s friends and family members watching the race were shocked and upset. They had wanted her to win so badly, and expected it to happen.

Still, DHS teammate Sofia Castiglioni said that O’Keeffe “ran a great race.”

“She was leading for seven, seven and a half laps. She looked very strong, very determined,” Castiglioni continued. “And obviously Destiny took over the last half lap and had an amazing kick, but she did not give up, which was really great. I’m very proud of her.”

Also bursting with pride was Devil distance coach Bill Gregg, also O’Keeffe’s mentor in cross country, where she has captured the past two state championships.

“I think she ran as well as she could. What Destiny did was really remarkable. No matter what Fiona threw at her, she didn’t tire out,” Gregg said. “My guess is (O’Keeffe will) put on to most people a relatively cheerful disposition. (But) inside, she’s probably just grinding right now, saying, ‘I don’t like it when that happens.’ ”

O’Keeffe admitted afterward that “once (the race) sinks in, I’ll probably start analyzing, get a little upset. It’ll be motivation, hopefully.

“You win some, lose some. The ones that you lose, you can take away lessons from.”

And once the race was finished, O’Keeffe was able to laugh when looking back on her nervousness from earlier.

“I was probably a little bit … I don’t know if I was the nicest person all day,” she said. “I guess just leading up to it, I’m trying to stay calm and focused.”

As one of the state meet’s main attractions, O’Keeffe isn’t able to get away with simply running and then leaving. Besides conducting numerous interviews immediately after the race, she had dozens of fans coming up to her as she walked away, offering congratulations.

For someone as unassuming as O’Keeffe, the attention is outside of her comfort zone.
“It does bother me sometimes,” she said. “It can kind of blow things out of proportion and distract from the purity of racing.

“I guess it’s a part of being a good athlete. I guess it’s a little bit giving back to the sport, because I definitely watch interviews of professional runners and look up to them, and everything.”

And a large part of the attention comes from college coaches trying to lure O’Keeffe onto their respective teams after she graduates. One coach even had a letter waiting for her right after her race on Saturday.

“It’s a little bit overwhelming,” said O’Keeffe, who wants to major in environmental science but isn’t sure what college she wants to attend.

“I’m looking forward to the (recruiting) process, but also, I’m a little scared,” she added with a laugh.

O’Keeffe’s season isn’t over yet. She’ll be competing in the two-mile race at the prestigious Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle on June 20, where she will have a chance for redemption against Collins, while also competing against the rest of the nation’s best, including runners like Allie Ostrander (Alaska), Danielle Jones (Arizona) and Anna Rohrer (Indiana).

O’Keeffe doesn’t lose very often, but she’s lost to all four of those girls. In other words, it should be an incredibly competitive race.

“I think just (to) compete is the goal, and hopefully a great time will come with it,” she said.

“Davis robotics team shines at UCD competition”

(Published in the March 25, 2015 issue of The Davis Enterprise and online)

About: I spent six hours at a robotic competition watching my school’s team. I spoke with people involved in every aspect of the operation, from pit crew members to the team captain. My on-the-scene observations helped bring the story to life, and it was featured on the front page.

The Davis High robotics team, 1678 Citrus Circuits, triumphed in the second of three regional competitions this season on Saturday.

The FIRST Robotics Competition, which featured 55 teams from all over the state and a few from around the nation, took place over a three-day period at the UC Davis ARC Pavilion, and saw Davis’ alliance of three teams cruise through the quarterfinals and semifinals to win the best-of-three final round 2-0.

The atmosphere was like an odd combination of a basketball game and a NASCAR race, with courtside announcers calling the matches and “pit crews” hurrying around with pieces of metal and screwdrivers to make last-minute repairs. But the 6-foot-tall robots being rushed around quickly dispelled any notions that this was a sporting event.

The crowd didn’t seem to know the difference. The thousand-odd spectators cheered and screamed with abandon, and the loud music and frequent impromptu dancing only added to the wild atmosphere.

Throughout it all, Citrus Circuits hung tough, winning nine of 10 qualification matches to earn a No. 3 seed (out of eight) and advance to the quarterfinals.

But the high-standards Davis team, which finished second at the world championships last year, was disappointed with the ranking.

“We’ve just been having a couple of problems (with) a little bit of programming stuff,” senior and team captain Elise Wong said at lunch before the quarterfinals.

The programming issues kept Citrus Circuits from a higher seed, but thanks to some strategizing and diplomacy by Wong, the first seed (118 Robonauts, from Texas) chose Davis over the second seed (1671 Buchanan Bird Brains) to be in an alliance.

The alliance selection happened before the quarterfinal round and involved each of the top eight seeds picking two other teams to work with for the rest of the competition.

The robots competed in a game called Recycle Rush, where each alliance scores points by using their robots to place recycling containers on top of stacks of totes boxes. Each match is only two and a half minutes, so every second counts.

Citrus Circuits’ robot (named Lemon Drop) had an advantage over many other teams because Davis team members had added two hook-like attachments (called the “chokehold arms”) which could be used to grab additional recycling containers from the middle of the field.

For the third team in the alliance, Citrus Circuits and Robonauts selected 5458 Digital Minds, the Woodland-based team that Davis students created last year. Even though Digital Minds was the 50th seed, Woodland’s robot’s design made it a good choice for an ally.

“We mainly picked them because they have a robot we can work with, that can put on … the chokehold arms, because that’s one of the main criteria we look for,” Wong said.

Once Digital Minds joined Citrus Circuits, Woodland and Davis team members worked nonstop through lunch and the quarterfinals and semifinals to attach the chokehold arms to Woodland’s robot, a process called “cheesecaking” in robotics lingo.

“The idea of cheesecake is that a good, powerhouse team will build what they call cheesecake. And they’ll test it and make sure it works before the competition,” senior and electrical lead Brycen Wershing said.

“And so (at the competition) we get to give them cheesecake, we get to put it on their robot.”

The Digital Minds robot was out of commission for a few hours while the chokehold attachment was being added, forcing 118 and 1678 to play two-on-three in all the quarterfinal and semifinal games … and the two teams were certainly up to the challenge.

In the two quarterfinal matches, Citrus Circuit’s alliance dominated 211-68 and 171-48, and moved to the semifinals as the top ranked out of four alliances.

Then, the four remaining contenders played in a round-robin format, and Davis again came out on top, 226-178, 200-110 and 202-132.

The final matchup was between Citrus Circuits’ alliance and a group led by the snubbed number two seed, the Buchanan Bird Brains. The Woodland robot was added to the mix and proved effective at grabbing extra recycling containers with its new arms.

The chokehold tactic propelled Davis to two victories, 218-132 and 206-159, to close out the competition.

Asked about the day’s events after the win, Wong was a little more upbeat.

“I think we worked really, really well with our partners. … We figured out our strategy, stuck with it, and it worked out really well,” she said.

“Even if we wouldn’t have won it all, I would have been totally happy with this competition. It was great.”

For Digital Minds, the win was especially significant, because it meant that the rookie Woodland team qualified to the world championships in April.

Digital Minds team captain Christine Pamplona was nearly in tears as she reflected on the competition, which was Woodland’s first ever.

“This experience has been truly amazing,” Pamplona said. “We never expected to get this far. We’ve been working so hard and I’m glad it all paid off.”

Pamplona said the team was “shocked” when it was selected to join Robonauts and Citrus Circuits in the top-seeded alliance.

“Our robot wasn’t doing very good, but Davis knew what our robot could do. When they chose us, we were all ecstatic,” she said.

Digital Minds later won the Rookie All Star Award, which would also have qualified them for the world championships.

But the successful day didn’t end there. In a surprise announcement, junior and mechanical lead Megan Yamoah won the prestigious FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Dean’s List Finalist Award, which usfirst.org describes as an award “to celebrate outstanding student leaders whose passion for and effectiveness at attaining FIRST ideals is exemplary.”

“The students who earn FIRST Dean’s List Award status as a Nominee, Finalist or Winner, will be great examples of student leaders who have led their teams and communities to increased awareness for FIRST and its mission all the while achieving personal technical expertise and accomplishment.”

Yamoah was happy to receive the award, which she believes was given due to the outreach projects she has undertaken for robotics.

“At the end of my sophomore year I decided to create outreach committees … there are six different projects that enable every student … involved to express their passion for sharing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics),” Yamoah said.

“Basically going out in the community and just talking to people, teaching people if that’s what they like to do. Or, some of them, with the winter shelter (one of the projects) were actually able to apply their technical skills to help the community. So everyone sort of fit in and found what they liked to do,” she added.

Citrus Circuits mentor and DHS math teacher Steve Harvey, who nominated Yamoah for Dean’s List, also received an award — the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award which recognizes “mentors who lead, inspire and empower using excellent communication skills,” according to usfirst.org.

Harvey described being recognized as “pretty emotional.”

“I’ve been with this team 11 years now. Obviously, like all the mentors, it’s a lot of hard work,” he said.

Citrus Circuits will next compete at the Silicon Valley Regional in San Jose April 1.

“Robotics team members reflect on their big win”

(Published in the April 28, 2015 issue of The Davis Enterprise and online)

About: Little did I know that the robotics team I covered previously would go on to be the best in the world. A factual news story had already been published, but I used an anecdotal lede to tell a more feature-esque story that documented the magnitude of the team’s achievement.

Bleary-eyed junior Megan Yamoah walked into her first-period class at Davis High five minutes late last Tuesday. She had been up until 2:30 a.m. the night before, helping to prepare and test a new mechanism for the Citrus Circuits robot.

There wasn’t going to be much rest in Yamoah’s near future either — she and other members of the Davis high school robotics team were leaving later that day to catch a flight to St. Louis and the FIRST Robotics world championships. The whirlwind trip would include a late-night plane ride, some wild celebrations and less sleep than anyone would have liked.

Oh, and one other thing: a world championship title.

Citrus Circuits, also known as Team 1678, outlasted more than 600 robotics teams from all over the world to avenge last year’s runner-up finish, going a perfect 2-0 in the best-of-three final round to clinch the title of world champions.

Yamoah, who was carrying AP test prep books around with her at school on Tuesday so she could study on the plane, says the effort she put in the night before is “what defines (Team 1678) and is one of the biggest reasons we were as successful as we were.”

And there is no doubt the team was successful.

After fighting its way to a No. 2 seed in one of eight divisions, Citrus Circuits partnered with No. 1 seed Team 118 (the Robonauts from Texas) and two other California teams, Team 1671 (the Buchanan Bird Brains) and Team 5012 (Gryffingear). The group was dubbed the “Sacramento Alliance,” because Citrus Circuits, Buchanan and the Robonauts had all made it to the finals of an earlier regional competition at UC Davis.

The teams competed in a game called Recycle Rush, in which the robots they built place recycling containers on top of stacks of boxes called totes. Citrus Circuits — which went undefeated at every competition this season — was dominant once again, and marched through the quarterfinals of the playoff Einstein Division. The Sacramento Alliance won all four matches and entered the semifinals ranked No. 1.

That’s when things took a turn. Team captain and senior Elise Wong says the alliance was having some problems with communication and Team 118’s robot went into “zombie mode” — occasionally slowing down and becoming difficult to control.

“We were kind of worried that we weren’t going to make it to finals (because) we were seeded too low at that point,” Wong said. “But at our very last semifinal match, we managed to somehow slip by, by like a couple of points. It was really, really close… A lot of us were thinking, ‘Oh gosh, we might not make it, we might not score enough points. We have to do really well on this last match.’

“And we just somehow managed to get those points and sneak by to the finals matches,” she said.

After making it to the finals, the competition was actually smooth sailing for the locals. But that didn’t stop Wong from worrying as victory approached.

“I personally get really nervous. I pretty much did not even watch the last three matches. I just closed my eyes. (I) wasn’t able to take the stress. But I could hear everyone around me cheering and stuff like that,” she said.

Yamoah didn’t feel the pressure, though, and says she “felt the win (coming) in the semifinals of Einstein before we made our big comeback.”

“I knew we could pull through, if nothing went wrong … we had the advantage in can grabbing (thanks to the new mechanism the team added during that late-night session),” she said. “We just had to play our strategy that we played throughout the whole playoffs, and I had to not make a mistake and give us a foul.”

The finals ended with Citrus Circuits celebrating its incredible victory.

“After we found out (we won), basically we just ran down to the field. Everyone was hugging and crying… this is one of the top goals that our team has. To achieve it at this point — (the team is) about 10, 11 years old — to finally accomplish this … is amazing,” Wong said.

But she still hasn’t quite processed the fact that the team won.

“It’s one of those things that you always kind of hope for. You’re like, ‘Oh, it’s probably not gonna happen this year, it might happen soon.’ So, it’s just a great experience to have it happen right now,” Wong said.

Yamoah said that just like in previous years, the entire trip was exhilarating.

“… Being at champs and feeling the energy of tens of thousands of high school students passionate about robots is amazing,” she said. “Looking up into the stands, I knew that we were the future of technology and that we had the power to change the world.”

Of course, winning it all this year was pretty good, too.

“For the team, the accomplishment means 11 years of work has … paid off,” Yamoah said. “This has been a wonderful way for (the seniors) to close off their high school careers.

“For me, it has been great because it is my first year as mechanical design lead, so I feel that maybe I did all right,” she joked.

“I’m super-proud of the team,” Wong added. “You know, it’s amazing how much you can accomplish with students who are willing to work hard (and) put in the time to build something.”

“Not feeling the Bern”

(Published in the Oct. 9, 2015 issue of The HUB)

About:  The Bernie Sanders movement caught fire in Davis last summer, and I felt that many high schoolers were joining the cause because it was trendy but weren’t well-informed. That’s why I cited statistics and used factual support to back up my arguments.

Kellen's article

“Davis actress, musician and singer cuts first album”

(Published in the Aug. 13, 2015 issue of The Davis Enterprise and online)

About: For an article about a student-run theater company, I interviewed recent high school graduate Camila Ortiz. She was fascinating and articulate, so I arranged a longer conversation with her. The subsequent interview was the longest I’d ever done.

Camila Ortiz has accomplished quite a lot, especially considering she’s only been alive for 18 years.

She’s played bass with the UC Davis and Davis High School symphonies, placed in a state speech and debate tournament, performed countless times on stage for Acme Theatre Company — and just released her own EP, titled “Carrot Flowers,” in late July.

Ortiz said she is grateful for being raised in Davis, where she has had opportunities, particularly in theater and music.

Finding Davis High’s academic pressure and competitiveness a little stressful, Ortiz found a home with Acme.

“The Acme community is pretty nice and not super-competitive and everyone is nice to each other and doesn’t compare grades and AP scores and stuff,” she said.

Ortiz started acting in third grade for the Davis Musical Theatre Company and also participated in school plays at Holmes Junior High. She discovered Acme in her sophomore year and said it’s a special group — especially because it’s student-run.

“It was pretty empowering to have control over all the steps of the creative process,” she said. “The adults have a lot of respect for the students in a way that I think is pretty rare.”

Ortiz is playing Medea in her final Acme show, “Argonautika.”

During her sophomore year, Ortiz also joined the DHS speech and debate team when it had just four members. At first, she wasn’t very good at it, but after practice, ended up placing fifth in the state in the dramatic interpretation category her junior year.

Fittingly, the award was for her 10-minute adaptation of “The K of D,” an Acme play in which she performed earlier that year.

But theater and speech and debate are just two of Ortiz’s talents. She’s also musically inclined, and started playing the bass in fourth grade.

Ortiz said she enjoys how different music is from her other pursuits.

“Music, at least instrumental playing, is lot less of an exercise in community or creativity and more in discipline, because it’s practice and learning music that is oftentimes difficult,” she said.

Out of all her passions, however, the one Ortiz is sure she’ll continue in college is singing, which she started in elementary school. She said there have been “embarrassing videos” of her covering songs on YouTube ever since.

A turning point for her came in ninth grade, when a local musician she liked, Sea of Bees, asked her to open for her at the Odd Fellows Hall in Davis, in a concert put on by Davis Live Music Collective. That same year Ortiz started writing her own songs.

She played several more times at the Music Collective and the Davis Music Festival.

And then, one of those YouTube covers attracted the attention of a Texas music publishing company called Suite B, which emailed Ortiz last summer and asked her to come record songs in its studio.

“I was really sketched out for a while. I thought it was an Internet scam for a long time,” Ortiz said. But then the company offered to pay for her plane ticket to Texas. So she talked with the reps on phone several times to make sure it was indeed a real place with real people.

“My dad came with me the first time. And they were (real people),” she said.

When Ortiz traveled to Texas this past February, her intention wasn’t to come back with an album. But after she recorded in Suite B’s studios for four days, the company decided her music was ready to be packaged and released.

“(‘Carrot Flowers’) has songs in it that I wrote in the 10th grade. I’ve written a lot more songs than that, but this is kind of like a selection of stuff that I’ve done in the past three years,” Ortiz said.

“People keep thinking (the title refers to) actual carrot flowers, like the real plant,” she said, but actually it refers to the carrots made into flower shapes served in Asian restaurants.

The five songs on the album, which can be purchased online at camilaortiz.com, have received rave reviews from the community.

“People have been really, really nice. I’m pretty overwhelmed and pretty happy with how supportive people have been,” Ortiz said. “It made me really excited to be releasing music and having people listen to it.”

Now it’s time for her to bid farewell to the town she grew up in, as she takes her skills to Harvard University this fall.

She never thought she would be accepted to the prestigious university, but is excited to be going there.
“There a lot of opportunities there both academically and even musically, in a city like Boston, where there are conservatories all over the place,” she said.

One of the college essays Ortiz wrote was about working at the Madison Migrant Center. She and other Acme students worked with the Migrant Center children to write and produce plays.

The experience made her appreciate life in Davis even more.

“These kids are super-isolated,” she said. “They don’t get any of the extracurriculars. They don’t get the opportunity to express themselves through art or anything, because they don’t live in a community that’s as affluent as ours.”

Her family has always been supportive of her interests over the years, including the arts and social justice.

“My sister (Isabel) is the bomb. She’s super-smart and she taught me a lot about the things that are important to me,” Ortiz said. “She introduced me to a lot of the music I like. And political things that are important to me like feminism and race relations — she taught me about that.”

That’s another reason why the Madison program was so valuable to Ortiz; it gave her the chance to combine social justice and the arts.

“I would be interested in continuing to see how the arts can affect social issues,” she said. “If I ever come into a position of being in the public eye, or even if I don’t, I want to speak out against things that are problematic, offensive, oppressive.”

As for other future plans, Ortiz is mostly unsure, but she would love to have a career in music.

“That’s obviously mostly a luck thing, oftentimes. There are a lot of factors that go into it, and it’s really hard to make a living off of it if you’re just moderately successful, but I would love to do that, if it’s doable,” Ortiz said.

For Ortiz, it seems pretty doable.

“King High brings cycling specialist full circle”

(Published in the April 23, 2015 issue of The Davis Enterprise and online)

About: The assignment was simple: explain a new bicycle program at King High School. While interviewing bike repair shop teacher Theo Buckendorf, however, I discovered there was a bigger story. I changed my angle to focus on how Buckendorf’s love of bicycles had helped him overcome his troubled childhood.

King High School has given a lot to Theo Buckendorf.

Raised by a single mom who was too busy to supervise him, Buckendorf “ran wild” while growing up in Davis and says he was destined for dropping out of Davis High School during his sophomore year.

He was referred to King High and didn’t know what to expect.

“As soon as I got there, it (had) this relaxed, familial kind of vibe to it. … I really credit it with saving me as a kid, and I bonded with the school,” Buckendorf said.

But he didn’t actually graduate from King as a senior; he was short on credits. He also had a substance abuse problem and eventually moved to Spokane, Wash., to live with his father and try to start a new life.

However, “my partying lifestyle just caught up to me and I just kind of continued to spiral down, both with self-esteem and financially and everything,” Buckendorf said. “So then I actually came back to Davis when I was 25 and (got into even more) trouble down here …”

Eventually, Buckendorf decided to turn his life around.

“I became hopeless that I was never going to be able to change. … I got another DUI and I had a heart-to-heart with my mom who was an alcoholic also, and we kind of had this epiphany together that there was like a family disease that we shared,” he said.

“We had one person that was in sobriety, one of her old friends from her high school. … We called her and she took us to AA and we both got sober. … It was kind of one of those Hallmark stories.”

‘Fascinated with bikes’

Throughout his rough childhood, there was always one constant for Buckendorf: bicycles.

“I’ve always been interested in mechanical things,” he said. “Ever since I was little, I was kind of obsessed with cars. When I was in early junior high school, that’s when the BMX scene first started. … I was fascinated with the bikes and I started hanging around the bike shop that started selling them.”

The owner of the shop gave Buckendorf a used bike in exchange for cleaning the store, and taught the young enthusiast how to race.

Even during his difficult years in both Davis and Spokane, Buckendorf worked in bike shops the entire time, because “I was good enough at it that I could always get a job.”

After becoming sober, Buckendorf returned to King to ask for direction and study materials.

“They took me under their wing,” he said. “The old principal, who was also the math and science teacher, tutored me after school and brought me up to speed so I could pass the (GED) and then when I went to college (at Sac City and eventually Sac State), I just started coming back to try to pay it back.

“I did some math tutoring and stuff there and started to fall in love with the school all over again. And then just kind of … destiny … plans aligned and right when I got my teaching credential, there was an opening in social studies. I’ve been teaching government there ever since the year 2000,” Buckendorf said.

Repair shop launched

But Buckendorf does more than just teach government … and P.E. and economics and algebra. He’s been able to combine his passion for bikes with his love for King High by starting a bike repair shop program eight years ago.

“I brought in my tools and one repair stand, and started with one period a day for only one semester. It was pretty popular with the kids and seemed to really kick off,” Buckendorf said.

“Our model was to be a community service shop, to kind of work on (bikes for people) that were less fortunate and couldn’t afford to take their bikes to the bike shops. … We got quite a few customers in the first couple years. We got bikes donated, we had a bike sale.”

The popular program has blossomed over the years and now has five complete work stations, eight repair stands, a full outfit of tools and two periods a day all year long.

Buckendorf also teaches an adult bike shop class every Tuesday night during two quarters of the year, and says it’s usually in such high demand that there’s a waiting list.

Buckendorf was so busy with his career at King that he didn’t have time to continue bicycling, at least at first.

“Actually when I first started teaching … I pretty much left cycling because I was so busy teaching all the time,” he said.

But that changed about 2008.

“I started the bike shop program and that just reignited the fire within me for cycling,” he said. “So I’ve been mountain bike racing, cyclocross racing, I’m part of a bicycle club and race team now. And I’ve taken students on bike trips on the weekends quite a lot.”

Bikes for families

Recently, the program has expanded even more. The city of Davis contacted Buckendorf and asked if he’d be willing to fix and donate bikes to families in need as part of its Street Smarts program.

“Since that’s kind of what our mission was already anyway, I agreed, and basically they help give us some funding to buy parts and tools and stuff, and in exchange we network with them to fix bikes,” Buckendorf said. “We’ve fixed up and donated several already to the Center for Families on B Street.”

Working in the bike shop at King has given students the hands-on experience and skills they need to get hired in bike shops around town, if they’re so inclined.

“I have connections at a couple of shops locally, and when I have a student that I think has enough aptitude and work ethic and dependability, I will put their name forward; I’ve gotten a few of them hired,” Buckendorf said.

He has been able to give back to the school that supported him during his difficult early years by engaging students who are in similar unfortunate situations, and says that his program has kept many motivated to stay in school.

“There’s a particular student that I have in mind that came through a few years ago, and he was kind of your typical truant student,” Buckendorf said. “His parents and the school, nobody could make him go to classes. And when he came to King, he was quiet and he wouldn’t talk and he (would) hardly lift a pencil to do anything. (But) he really enjoyed bike shop class, and he was a good BMXer, too.

“And (we) sort of bonded, and the next thing you know he started coming every single day, mostly just to come to the bike shop. But within one semester of attending King, all the other teachers reported that he started really doing his work.

“He got really motivated, sort of turned his whole personality around,” Buckendorf continued. “He’s a very established young man now. And that same story has kind of played out to various degrees over and over again.”

Buckendorf says King High has changed since he was a student, and is now more structured with defined class periods and more direct instruction.

“But the thing I really like about King is that it’s kept the same low-key and familial atmosphere,” he said. “The spirit has remained even as we’ve sort of evolved with the times.”

“Da Vinci graduate in the running for ‘best new chef'”

(Published in the April 7, 2015 issue of The Davis Enterprise and online)

About: Of the many stories I’ve written, this was simply the most fun. I really enjoyed interviewing Ian Wilson and learning about a career path different from my own. Afterwards, I marveled at how well I knew this man I’d only talked with once the phone.

Ian Wilson is not your typical Davis product. As a child, he was told that he had attention deficit disorder and should be taking medication. After high school, he dropped out of community college two different times.

“It didn’t mesh well with me and my (tactile) learning style,” Wilson said.

But he loved attending Da Vinci Charter Academy, which he says was “significantly more free-form, which made a lot of sense for me and my learning style.”

He graduated from Da Vinci in 2007.

After enrolling in and later dropping out of college, Wilson lived with some friends in Davis for a year or two, “trying to re-educate myself on what I thought were important values for my generation. We were gardening a lot. We were all teaching each other and ourselves how to utilize food more importantly.”

After all, food has always been an important part of Wilson’s life.

“I think that’s because when I was a child, my grandparents stressed the importance of family and respect for life and the Earth,” Wilson said. “They were also the ones who were responsible for always getting our family together, and whether they knew it or not, the fact that all of our family get-togethers were almost always in the form of a large dinner must have burned some sort of idea into me at a young age.”

So when it was time for Wilson to get his first job after high school, it’s only natural that he chose to deliver pizzas; his second job was at Caffé Italia.

Eventually, Wilson quit working at the popular Davis restaurant, but he couldn’t find a new job during tough economic times.

“So I took my Grandpa’s advice … he said, ‘If you want to work somewhere, just (work) there for free, and if you do a good enough job, they’ll hire you.’ I don’t know why no one ever told me that before, but it worked perfectly. So I worked at Osteria Fasulo for about a year or two,” Wilson said.

He learned everything he could about the food industry there, then quit the job and headed to Portland with his girlfriend, who had been accepted to graduate school at Portland State University.

After working at a variety of jobs, including coffee roasting, Wilson had made some connections in the food industry and decided to try pop-up dinners — temporary, one- or two-day restaurants that operate out of existing venues.

“We had a friend who had a restaurant that had just closed, but it was still mostly built out and had tables and chairs,” Wilson said. “Using that space, we invited about 80 or 100 friends or so, and about 25 of them RSVP’d.

“So then we did a menu that had six or seven courses on it,” he continued. “We prepared wine with everything and sold tickets for it. … We did a few of those (and) we planned on doing that for maybe nine months or a year.”

But he and his partners — Tyler Hauptman and John James Dudek — encountered an unexpected problem: “The people whose restaurant we were using told us that their lease was expiring. So either we had to … rent the place out, and it could be our place then, or, if we didn’t want to, we had to wrap up our show and be done with it.

“So we decided, kind of irrationally, (to jump) right into it. We decided to just rent the place. … Before we knew it, we had a three-year lease on our hands, and a building. So we built it into a restaurant, and we put together a real menu and got the ball rolling,” Wilson said.

The restaurant, which features semi-Scandinavian cuisine, is named Fenrir, after the wolf from Norse mythology.

“It kind of felt right,” Wilson said. “The whole story of the Fenrir wolf — he was kind of a misunderstood character. He was not a bad guy, but he was imprisoned for his whole life.”

Wilson says the early days of the restaurant were “crazy.”

“There were a million things that went wrong, and from them a million things that we learned how to make right,” he said.

No one was willing to invest in Fenrir, and Wilson and his partners had to use domestic refrigerators and cook on an “old, broken electric stove.”

“But we were making good food and good drinks and had awesome service, and people loved it, and it was a lot of fun,” he said. “And as we’ve slowly been growing in our space, we’re building a much more professional kitchen — now we have a small staff of regular people who work with us, and things are going well,” Wilson said.

So well, in fact, that Wilson is one of the contenders for People’s Best New Chef in Food & Wine Magazine. Voters can choose from one of 10 chefs in each region of America, and Wilson is competing in the Northwest & Pacific category, which can be found at www.foodandwine.com/blogs/2015/04/01/the-peoples-best-new-chef-northwest-and-pacific-chefs. Voting concludes Wednesday.

“I didn’t aspire to cooking because I was interested in the celebrity side of it,” Wilson said. “But I am excited because with that kind of exposure — Food & Wine’s a national publication, and their website and their magazine reach all over the world — it means that we get a huge publicity boost.

“And ever since it was announced … service up here and the amount of food we’ve been selling, everything has been doubled and tripled compared to what we were doing even a couple of weeks ago.”

As for the future, Wilson would love to return to Davis, and says he has “an immense passion for the Central California Valley. … I love Yolo County, and it’s totally a sacred place for me.”

Unfortunately, Wilson says, it’s also an area with “a lot of the bureaucracy” that tends to drive creative people elsewhere.

Additionally, Wilson says, it is very difficult to get space in downtown Davis to set up a small business or restaurant.

“The majority of (the real estate) is being leased and sold to people in Sacramento. And they’re building carbon-copy restaurants of restaurants that already exist in Sacramento. And it’s a bummer because … we think about how our restaurant theoretically would be great to do in a place like that, except it seems practically impossible …”

In particular, he said, local laws hinder small restaurants and food trucks in Davis.

“… I would love to theoretically in the future do something else back home,” Wilson said. “But right now it’s hard, because the infrastructure is so much of an uphill battle.”