Remembered for his sense of humor, work ethic and natural athleticism, 2016 Berkeley High School graduate Efejon Ustenci died last week while swimming with friends near Tahoe. He was 17 years old.
Ustenci, known to his friends as “Efe,” was involved in ultimate frisbee, soccer, rugby and “Best Buddies,” a club at Berkeley High School in which students eat lunch and spend time with special needs students. At a vigil held Saturday at Berkeley High that drew hundreds of attendees, Ustenci’s peers and teachers recounted moments when he had demonstrated the compassion and friendship he was known for around campus.
“I was amazed,” said Nathaniel Muhler, who coached Ustenci in rugby during his senior year. “So many of his friends, both young men and young women, (gave) testimonials to his character and his impact on their lives — it was both on and off the field.”
Ustenci was captain of his statewide under-16 Youth Club Championship ultimate frisbee team and had been planning to continue playing the sport during his first undergraduate year at California Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo in the fall.
Despite only playing one season of rugby during his senior year of high school, he started for every game, was the second-highest scorer on the team and was named Rookie of the Year, according to Muhler.
Teammates and coaches called Ustenci a role model to younger players who encouraged his peers to take practices seriously. He frequently organized training runs up the Fire Trails in the Berkeley Hills outside of regular team conditioning.
“He had an incredible intensity on the field and then he’d turn it right around and make us laugh,” said Youth Club Championship ultimate frisbee teammate Oscar Kohut. “He had a perfect balance of humor and intensity both on and off the field.”
Jeremy Dolezal-Ng, who graduated from Berkeley High School this year, met Ustenci in third grade through a club soccer team and continued to play ultimate frisbee with him through high school. In addition to his athletic accomplishments, Dolezal-ng remembers Ustenci for his friendship.
After Dolezal-ng’s father died a couple years ago, Ustenci anonymously dropped off a box of flowers and helped move furniture out of Dolezal-Ng’s father’s former home.
“He kickstarted some kind of positive energy through our friend group,” Dolezal-Ng said. “He was one of the first friends there for me.”
An online crowdfunding campaign created Saturday in order to help offset the cost of the memorial service for Ustenci’s family raised $3,600 of its $10,000 goal in its first hour. Currently, 278 donors have contributed a total of $19,799 to the campaign.
“I think that the lesson is that it’s incredible to see the impact that a 17-year-old can have on others, both on the adults and peers around them in their lives,” Muhler said.