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South End mourns passing of legendary coach

Cross country runners Jean Koelblinger, Chantal White, Emily Martin, Cassie Bosman, Erica Johnson, Courtney Bosman and Caroline Habel surround former Falcon coach Carl Westling at a meet several years ago. - Photo courtesy of Pat Westling
Cross country runners Jean Koelblinger, Chantal White, Emily Martin, Cassie Bosman, Erica Johnson, Courtney Bosman and Caroline Habel surround former Falcon coach Carl Westling at a meet several years ago.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Pat Westling

Legendary South Whidbey cross country coach Carl Westling died Thursday at age 65.

Westling, a snake-toting science teacher who led the Falcons to seven league championships, was a soft-spoken man who loved the poems of Robert Frost.

His favorite was “The Road Not Taken,” and, like the narrator of that poem, Westling decided on taking the road less traveled.

And, for uncounted South Whidbey students and athletes, that has made all the difference.

From 1970 until he was felled by a stroke in 1997, Westling was a science teacher and coach at South Whidbey High School, earning the coveted title “Coach of the Year” in 1992 for his work with the girls cross country team.

Although he’d been slowed by medical problems, Westling continued to be involved with the running program in recent years and was an assistant with the Falcon track team. He could be found dispensing advice and words of wisdom on any given spring afternoon at Waterman Field, as kids would come by in ones and twos to pick up valued pointers on timing and form.

“Carl was a great mentor and very good friend,” said Falcon track coach Doug Fulton.

“During the past 12 years, he continued to volunteer coach with both the track and cross country teams. He never complained about his situation; he just made the most of the opportunities he had,” Fulton said. “He and his wife, Pat, traveled all over the state to watch the kids compete; he was our greatest supporter and our inspiration.

“We will miss him immensely, but the legacy which he left will guide us forever.”

Westling began coaching high school girls track in 1975, and his teams captured seven league championships and four state awards during his career. Four of Westling’s athletes went on to receive All-American honors in college.

He and football coach Jim Leirer were the first two coaches inducted into the high school’s Walk of Fame in 2007.

In fact, Westling and student runner Curt Gordon pretty much began the successful cross country program.

“We’d travel to other schools so I could run, and eventually the school district caved in and we started cross country as a full-time sport,” Gordon said.

Westling designed and, with lots of volunteer help, built the trails that bear his name in the woods at Community Park, one of the top-rated cross country courses in the state.

On April 25, in one of his last public appearances, Westling was surrounded by several dozen of his former high school runners as they set off for a ceremonial lap before the start of the 26th annual Westling Invite.

The coach and his wife lived for 28 years in the house they built in the Sun Vista community.

“He was a vibrant man who loved life and people, and boy, did he love coaching all those kids,” Pat Westling recalled. “He influenced their lives and helped set them on the path, the right road that each needed to take to be successful in whatever they did.”

Pat Westling said her husband was a hard worker who inspired others to do their best. But that didn’t mean he didn’t like to have fun.

The couple’s only daughter, Carrie Duggan, recalled how her father would tell highly imaginative but totally fabricated stories in biology class.

“My classmates would turn to me and ask if it was true. Sadly, I’d have to shake my head and say no,” she said.

And woe betide anyone falling asleep. When the errant student woke up, he would find himself face-to-face with Fire, Westling’s pet python.

To discourage kids from staying away too long, his hall pass was a giant skull that students would lug through the corridors at school.

“It was very effective,” Duggan recalled.

Westling was an inveterate traveler, and he and Pat would take off on adventures whenever they could, including three Olympics in Los Angeles, Barcelona and Atlanta.

The years following his stroke were a challenge of another dimension as Westling was in and out of care centers and hospitals. His wife and Gordon were by his side when he slipped peacefully away from complications of diabetes and bacterial infection.

His final wish was to find a way to continue the adventure.

“Carl will be cremated and his ashes will be available in tiny pill bottles,” Pat explained. “When someone is headed out on a journey, Carl wants to be there, too.”

His wife intends to have folks submit photos of their journey, and she’ll maintain an album of memories with all of her husband’s future adventures.

“In those 28 years at the high school, he touched a lot of lives,” she said.

Former students and friends can share their stories of Westling during a celebration of his life at 11 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 16 at the high school auditorium, followed by a potluck to share memories and laughter.

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