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There’s no debating his influence

Wed., April 8, 2009, midnight

REPUBLIC, Wash. – Debate team members at Republic High School wore camouflage armbands and hair ties on Tuesday in memory of their highly regarded coach, who died Friday in a boating accident on Lake Roosevelt.

Dan Walling, in his fifth year as an English teacher in Republic, inspired his students to be successful, but he raised eyebrows when he dressed in camouflage and Carhartts for debate meets, students said.

They were motivated by his combination of intelligence and drive, if not his down-home style of dress, which they adopted out of respect, they said.

His death has sent a shock wave across the campus and through this small city in rugged Ferry County, about 125 miles northwest of Spokane. A memorial service at the high school is set for Friday.

“He made kids feel they had the potential to do anything,” Superintendent Teena McDonald said.

Principal Shawn Anderson said, “His strength was making connections with students.”

According to authorities, Walling and fellow teacher Ted Torzewski were fishing Friday when their boat struck a rocky shoreline on Lake Roosevelt downstream from Lincoln.

Lincoln County Sheriff Wade Magers said two other fishermen found the wreck and called 911 about 4 p.m. Walling, 46, was dead at the scene and Torzewski, 43, was unconscious.

Torzewski was taken to Sacred Heart Medical Center, where he was upgraded on Tuesday from critical to serious condition.

Magers said the damage to the boat indicated it likely was running at a high speed when it crashed. Alcohol may have been involved, he said.

The crash is under investigation through the Sheriff’s Office and National Park Service rangers on Lake Roosevelt.

“As far as why it happened, we don’t have an answer to that,” Magers said.

Debate team member Cassandra Novotney, a senior, said the news devastated her. She and fellow students went to school Sunday to start building a wall memorial, which includes postings of tributes and remembrances. The students met with grief counselors Monday.

By Tuesday, Novotney said she was feeling strong enough to look inside Walling’s classroom, where his handwriting was still on the board.

Three years ago, Walling founded the debate team and took it to competitions against Spokane schools with bigger budgets and much larger student bodies. Republic’s entire K-12 school system has just under 400 students.

The team scored 50 trophies this past season, and the 12-member team won the debate academic championship for highest grade averages among the state’s small high schools in the 2-B class. Six team members qualified for the state debate tournament last month.

“It definitely means a lot more to me now that we could make him proud,” Novotney said.

Walling, a graduate of Deer Park High School, started his career in advertising and business, but left that field in 2004 after becoming disillusioned with corporate image-making that he considered dishonest, said fellow teacher Mike Lust.

“It was basically a matter of conscience,” Lust said.

A Washington State University graduate, Walling earned a master’s degree in teaching from Pacific Lutheran University before joining the Republic schools.

“He loved the rural life – hunting and fishing,” Lust said.

McDonald said Walling once brought bear meatballs and venison jerky for her to sample.

Wearing a camouflage armband, librarian Kelly Scriver described Walling as “highly intelligent, very well spoken and very caring.”

“He made a huge impact on our students and many adults, and he is leaving a huge hole,” she said.

Others said the outdoorsman was poetic.

The school’s memorial to Walling included this: “You could always make us laugh through the worst of times.”

Walling leaves behind his wife, Laura, and three children – triplets in the third grade.

The school district has received an outpouring of support from other educators. Debate competitors from Spokane are expected to attend the memorial service for Walling, scheduled to start at 2 p.m.

Educational Service District 101 in Spokane sent grief counselors to the school Monday and Tuesday.

“They made us feel like if we want to talk about it, we can,” said debate team member Nicole Dawn Ordway, a senior.

The team members said they found the greatest solace in sharing grief with one another.

“We just remember the good, because that is all we have to do,” Ordway said.

Mike Prager can be reached at (509) 459-5454 or by e-mail at

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