Keith Hamm interviews Whittier Fire Incident Commander Mark Von Tillow
Paul Wellman

As part of our year in review, we’ve asked a few of our writers and editors to suggest a few of the stories they were particularly proud of this year. Here’s what News Reporter Keith Hamm told us.

1. ‘Channel Crossing Taps Ocean-Sized Compassion’

A seafaring supporter took part in the Friendship Paddle for Genny Maxwell.
Paul Wellman

When I think back on standout 2017 stories, the first piece that comes to mind is Ethan Stewart’s first-person reflection on how The Friendship Paddle helped him move through the darkness of his cancer. I had just started editing the Living section, and I’m still grateful Ethan accepted that assignment and delivered some bare-bones perspective.

2. ‘The Cecilia Fund Saved My Life’

Molly-Ann Leikin
Courtesy Photo

A month later, another very personal piece arrived unsolicited in my inbox. Author Molly-Ann Leikin (rhymes with “bacon,” as she likes to say) describes her painful fall from normalcy, going broke paying for treatment, and being saved by a grant from a Santa Barbara nonprofit. And she went through all that without losing her sense of humor.

3. ‘End of an Era for Open Alternative School’

An Open Alternative School (OAS) founding educator, Gloria Liggett embraces a fellow supporter after the Board of Education voted unanimously to close the 42-year-old institute of alternative education.
Paul Wellman

On the news side, I regularly attend Santa Barbara Unified school board meetings, which typically drag slowly into the night lightly sprinkled with semi-interesting tidbits. Every so often, however, a school board meeting can be a historic and poignant affair, such as when board members voted unanimously to heed the superintendent’s recommendation to close Open Alternative School. Frankly, I was a bit stunned and disappointed that none of the board voted in favor of keeping the school’s doors open.

4. ‘Santa Barbara Youth Sports Follow New Concussion Safety Rules’

Making the game safer has become a priority for football officials. Helmet-to-helmet contact is dangerous and against the rules. The Oxnard player who lowered his head against Santa Barbara High’s Christopher Jellison in 2014 cost his team a 15-yard penalty.
Paul Wellman (file)

Over the decades, I’ve been the sorry recipient of no fewer than three concussions, and the more I read about their lingering — at times chronic — consequences, the more grateful I am that kids these days play sports under stricter rules designed to prevent head injury and, if accidents happen, can check into Cottage Concussion Clinic.

5. ‘Santa Barbara Surfer Rides a 53-Foot Wave’

Ben Andrews dropping into a Maverick’s monster, November 9, 2016.

Like most writers, I don’t love writing — I love having written. This year, however, there was one story that actually had me enjoying the process of putting one word after another as I sat on my ass in front of a computer. That had everything to do with Ben Andrews and his family and friends putting up with all my questions as I attempted to tell the story about how he won a big-wave contest for catching a 53-footer at a deadly spot called Maverick’s.


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