For almost two years – from early 2019 through October of 2020 – he would follow his work days with six-hour study sessions that went until midnight at least five days a week. He was prepping for the difficult Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
“Dekan has this desire – I should say a drive, that’s more like it – to be a lawyer,” Tornichio said the other day. “Most people say, ‘Yeah, I want to go to law school, but when he’s talking to you about it, he’s not just paying it lip service. He wants to know all the ins and outs. He’s like a sponge soaking up the knowledge because he really wants to learn from your experience.”
Tornichio was so impressed that he gave him a key to his chambers so he could study in the courthouse after hours and not be disturbed.
“Yeah, it was just me and the janitors in there at night and we developed a really good relationship,” Ekpo said with a smile. “They’d work until 10 and I used to joke with them how, when they thought no one was left in the building, they’d mop the floor, but not put down a ‘Wet Floor’ sign.
“I had a couple of close calls where I went sliding.”
He laughed and admitted he never hit the deck. That he always kept his footing should be no surprise. After all, his first name means victory in the Ibibio language of his father, NseAbasi Ekpo, who is from Uyo, Nigeria.
Dekan’s mom, Judith, is from Chicago. He also has an older sister Idongesit, who lives in Oakwood.
His parents met at Northern Illinois University, where his dad initially had come to study and then got a job on campus. He later worked at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and at Amarillo College, a community college in the Texas Panhandle.
Eventually, he came to Central State and served as the Director of Student Support Services until his recent retirement.
Although born in Illinois, Dekan grew up in Amarillo and said: “I consider myself a Texan.”
And with a smile, he added: “I’ll tell you one thing, football is huge in Texas. It’s like a religion. If you ever saw the movie Friday Night Lights, Odessa Permian was playing Amarillo’s Tascosa High.
“We used to have football as a class. It was fourth period and it was double blocked for two hours.
“So in the morning I’d go to geography, then English and Algebra. And fourth period was two hours of football. Then came lunch and two more classes before football practice.
“That’s why I couldn’t believe it when I got to Beavercreek and our football was just two hours after school.”
In his early high school days he considered himself a football and basketball player and said he wasn’t interested in track: “I didn’t take it seriously. In football you’re made to run as punishment so even though I was always fast, I was like: ‘I don’t want to run.’
“It wasn’t until my old coach (Bob Beekman) saw me on the football field and said, ‘That kid can really run!’ that I got interested in track. I wouldn’t say I liked it at first, but I started to win and I like winning.”
Dekan Ekpo of Beavercreek reacts as he wins the Mens 100 Meter Dash during the GWOC Track and Field Championship 2013 at Centerville High School in Centerville Friday, May 17, 2013. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY E.L. HUBBARD
Credit: E.L. Hubbard
Credit: E.L. Hubbard
His senior year he was an All-Ohio runner. He won the 100 meters at the Greater Western Ohio Conference (GWOC) championships and at the district and the regional meets. He made the state finals and set the Beavercreek High record (10.71 seconds) in the 100.
He said he was “a late bloomer” in track and didn’t get recruited like he’d hoped.
“After I ran at state, my mom and I were watching the NCAA Track and Field Championships that were televised from Eugene, Oregon,” he said. “I watched the 100 meters – my event – and the winner was Charles Silmon from TCU. He ran a 9.89 and I’ll never forget, he crossed the finish line screaming ‘Aaaaah!’
“I was like TCU? Growing up in Texas, I knew of it. And my sister went to SMU (Southern Methodist University) down the road in Dallas. I did some research and found TCU had produced the most sprinters to run the 100 under 10 seconds. It was a sprint powerhouse.
“So I called their coach (Darryl Anderson) and he recognized my name. He’s from Cleveland and he said, ‘Ekpo? I was just at the state meet in Ohio. I remember your name.’
“He asked me and my mom to fly out there and we did.”
The trip – and a special person he met at TCU – has forever changed his life.
“My mom and I were touring the campus and we were talking to somebody and said, ‘We’re from Beavercreek, Ohio.’
“And this woman overheard us and came out of her office and said, ‘Beavercreek! I’m from Beavercreek!’”
The woman was Jamie Dulle, who had grown up in Wapakoneta, gotten her undergrad and master’s degrees at Wright State and had lived in the same townhouse complex as the Ekpos did back then.
She had come to TCU to fulfill a promise she’d made to her late husband, Don Dulle, who had been a legal investigator for the Greene County prosecutor’s office and an adjunct political science professor at Wright State.
In 2010, he died from a brain tumor at age 36.
Jamie had assured him she’d go on and get her doctorate, which she did at TCU. She ended up an associate dean of campus life and had a special interest in athletes’ welfare.
She was drawn to Ekpo’s enthusiasm and when he told her he was interested in going to law school, she said she had someone she’d like him to meet back home.
Dekan Ekpo with his mentor, Judge Adolfo Tornichio, who once presided over the Greene County Juvenile Court and earlier his year was appointed to the General Division of the Common Pleas Court. (Contributed photo)
Her husband and Judge Tornichio, who had worked in the prosecutor’s office for 16 years, had been best friends.
“It was crazy, here I was a thousand miles from home and all this was happening,” Ekpo said. “She became my mentor at TCU and that summer she introduced me to Judge Tornichio.”
Tornichio was impressed, as well:
“It’s going to sound corny, but when you meet Dekan, he has a twinkle in his eye and a million-dollar smile on his face. You are just drawn to him because of that positive attitude he possesses. That’s what drew me in.”
During his TCU career – running the 100, 200 and indoor 60 meters – Ekpo said he competed in over 20 track meets and 53 races.
“It was just a phenomenal experience, running against the best of the best in the country,” he said,
His final year he ran hurt and after he graduated he underwent hip surgery back here.
While that entailed a lengthy recovery, nothing hurt more than the news in March of 2019 that 41-year-old Dr. Jamie Dulle, the mother of two boys, had been killed in Fort Worth when a drunk driver rear-ended her car.
Part of her legacy remains the Ekpo-Tornichio connection and that year Dekan began his job with the judge and immediately lived up to her promise that an athlete can make the transition to academia.
And he had a laser focus when it came to law school.
“The thing about Dekan, I don’t think anyone has ever taught him what the word ‘No’ means,” Tornichio laughed. “If they have, he doesn’t care. He’s just got a passion for life and life’s goals.”
Actually, there is one time he lost sleep because he was told “No!”
He was so immersed in his studying at the courthouse that on the weekends he was slipping into the basement and sleeping there overnight.
“I got caught by Judge Lewis,” he laughed. “They found my Harry Potter blanket in the basement and she called me in and said, ‘Dekan, I know this is your blanket. You can’t be sleeping here!’”
He continued to study long into the night, either in the solitude of the courthouse or after driving to nearby Cedarville University to work in the library and be around other people for a few hours.
He admitted he became “obsessed” with trying to get the best LSAT score he could.
“I probably spent close to $3,000 on LSAT prep books,” he said. “One of the sections of the LSAT is called logic games and it’s notoriously the hardest section of the test.
“When you study you can buy old tests. There’s probably 85 or 90 and I bought every logic game section. I did every single game ever created and I did each one five times.”
The family now lives in Xenia and the other evening he brought out stacks of those old games he’d completed. But his obsession went far beyond that.
He hired a consultant – Karen Buttenbaum, a Rhode Island-based partner of the Spivey Consulting Group and the former director of admissions of the Harvard Law School – to he help him craft his applications, polish his essays and give him LSAT tips.
He upped his physical preparation, as well.
A sprinter used to training in short bursts of speed, he started doing distance running.
“I was venturing into uncharted territory academically, so I wanted to take my body there, too,” he said. “I’m more of a muscular guy and my body tightens up running miles. But I wanted that mental fortitude. I wanted to be able to handle that uncomfortable mindset. I figured if I can run five miles in 30 or 35 minutes, I can take a four-hour test.”
He adhered to a strict diet – which explains his 8 percent body fat – and he turned down friends’ offers to go out on weekends. He drank no alcohol.
“I had to say, ‘No’ a lot and I’m sure some people wondered about that,” he said. “When you’re chasing greatness, it kind of leaves you misunderstood. People don’t know the end result you’re going for.”
He took the LSAT three times, each time improving his score.
The third time he scored 166. His logic games section was perfect and he ended up in the 93rd percentile.
He had applied to 23 law schools and was accepted by several, including Ohio State, Baylor, William and Mary and Pepperdine.
“In the end it came down Michigan and Notre Dame,” he said.
Dekan Ekpo, who is headed to Notre Dame’s law school later this month, as described by his mentor, Greene County Judge Adolfo Tornichio: “It’s going to sound corny, but when you meet Dekan, he has a twinkle in his eye and a million-dollar smile on his face. You are just drawn to him because of that positive attitude he possesses. That’s what drew me in.” CONTRIBUTED
He chose Notre Dame after he was informed he’d also receive a Dean’s Scholarship which he said is worth six figures.
“When you consider the money and the school now has a Supreme Court Justice with Amy Coney Barrett, it’s all pretty surreal,” he said.
After Notre Dame’s offer, he called his parents whom he credits for his foundation and he told Tornichio and Lewis.
“They’ve both been my mentors,” he said. “Judge Lewis gave me constant encouragement. She said, ‘With your background as an athlete, you’re going to get in a good law school.’
“And Judge Tornichio believed in me from the jump. He always had my best interests at heart. I gained all kinds of experience from him. I think he’s the best judge in Ohio.”
No one is happier for Ekpo that Tornichio:
“I’d say Dekan is the American story of grit, drive and determination to achieve a goal. And isn’t that what we’re supposed to be about in this country?
“You have a dream and no matter who you are or where you come from, you should be able to purse that dream here. And I think he exemplifies that. He didn’t let anything slow him down.”
Not even a bucket, a mop and the lack of a sign that warned “Wet Floor.”