Caleb LaCelle is a reserved young man more likely to listen carefully to directions than offer his own commentary. But if you can get him talking about the wild afternoons he spent building forts and firepits with friends in his Acampo backyard, his personality sparks to life.
"There was metal out there, wood with nails stuck in it. It was a little boy's dream," said LaCelle, 16. "We just had fun out there, building stuff."
He doesn't have much time for building forts these days. After making his own schedule as a home-schooled student his whole life, LaCelle gave up his freedom and enrolled at Jim Elliot Christian High School.
"I was just desperate to play baseball," said LaCelle, who has grown too old to play city league sports. "So I'll go to school. I'll do what it takes."
That's the kind of attitude that characterizes the boy's accomplishments.
LaCelle was selected as one of 46 people in the nation to be part of the annual Youth Education Summit, sponsored by the National Rifle Association. It's an educational experience that brings high schoolers to the nation's capital for a week to tour the monuments and museums, learns the ins and outs of government and debate on the Constitution and Bill of Rights. At the end, he'll have a chance to win a $30,000 scholarship.
Teachers are proud of LaCelle's opportunity.
"He's a very confident, mature young man for his age," said Dennis Buchmiller, an AP U.S. history teacher at Elliot High. "It's no surprise to me at all."
LaCelle knew it was a long shot when he applied. But after his mom got five emails in a week suggesting the program for him, he went for it.
"I've read about the memorials and seen pictures, but it will be cool to see it," he said.
A long list of accomplishments was already piled up under his name. LaCelle is a member of the Royal Rangers, a faith-based organization to mentor young men similar to Boy Scouts, and earned the Gold Medal of Achievement. He is a graduate of the Junior Leader Training Academy of the Northern California Nevada District Assemblies of God. He spent 10 years as a member of 4-H, works as an umpire for Galt youth baseball and keeps his grades up.
"I tell him all the time, he makes us look good," said Jeanne LaCelle, his mother.
As though that isn't enough, LaCelle was also chosen by the American Legion to represent the Lodi area at the Boys State Leadership Conference this summer. He'll be home for one day before leaving for Washington, D.C.
LaCelle isn't sure if his group will get chance to meet the president. But he knows what he'd say.
"'It's an honor to meet you, Mr. President,'" he said. "I'd keep it polite and careful."