By Michele J. Kuhn
TINTON FALLS – Emmett Walling is a much beloved part of the Ranney School community and now he has an aquatic center named after him to prove it.
The Hope Road school dedicated its swimming pool and aquatic center in the name of the teacher/coach, who is in his 33rd year there. The special ceremony to honor Walling was held on the school’s track Friday, Oct. 5, and was attended by most of the school’s 800 students, faculty and staff.
The bright hot sunny day had nothing on the warmth radiated by the crowd toward Walling. Smiles were plentiful and applause punctuated speeches and fond remembrances.
Walling was obviously proud of the honor bestowed on him. It was the first time in the school’s history that a facility was named after a staff member. When he was told about the naming of the facility last spring, he said he was overwhelmed.
“I could not even put it into words,” the 62-year-old teacher said prior to the ceremony. “I’m a very humble person. I’m not a chatterbox but words just can’t express … it’s just so great to know that in years to come my name will be connected with a pool that has meant so much to so many kids already.
“It’s very, very exciting,” Walling said. “It’s rare that someone stays this long but when you find something this good, you stick with it. This is a very special place.”
Walling says he loves what he does. “Every day is a challenge. I’ve got 3-year-olds right up to 18-year-olds. For a teacher, it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Walling who, as the Ranney School swimming teacher, has taught every student the school has enrolled since he started in 1980. He’s the only teacher in the school with that distinction.
Walling, a Middletown native who now lives in Manasquan, learned to swim at Shadow Lake, where he lived as a child. “It was important for me to learn how to swim,” he said. He is from a family of Belford Harbor lobstermen. “They made their money taking things out of the water. I’ve earned my living, supported my family, by putting things into the water,” he said with a laugh.
He and his wife Jackie, who is a teacher in Oceanport, are the parents of Kaitlin, a police officer in Cranbury, and 24-year-old twins, Emmett and Elizabeth.
Walling is known as a patient instructor and coach who is trusted and respected by the children he teaches.
“He has developed kids not just as swimmers but as people too,” said Valerie Francois, the school’s director of strategic marketing and communications.
Thomas Moriau, Ranney’s athletic director, calls Walling “one of the most dedicated educators I know.
“No one deserves this honor more,” Moriau said. “We have (an aquatic) facility second to none in Monmouth and Ocean counties and it’s because of him … Our students love to swim for this man.”
Lawrence S. Sykoff, Ranney head of school, spoke of the “extraordinary work of this great man.” He recalled that Walling arrived on campus in 1980, the year the pool opened. After 32 years, “that pool has earned a name, a very special name.
“Mr. Walling has guided hundreds of students to take their first plunge to learn to swim” and has made those lessons enjoyable for those he has taught, Sykoff said.
The head of school said Walling was the embodiment of the school’s motto: “Knowledge, Vision and Honor.”
Senior Veronika Fischer, 17, of Rumson told those gathered to honor Walling that the swim coach was someone who worked six days a week, recognized students’ strengths when they couldn’t, sang Christmas carols with them when they practiced “and reminds us that it’s just a race.
“Mr. Walling just doesn’t want us to swim our fastest, he wants us to swim our best,” Fischer said. “Mr. Walling teaches us that if you truly want something, you will have to work hard every day.”
As the student turned toward Walling she told him, “There is no one who deserves this more than you do.”
Doreen Fowlkes, a teacher at the school for the past 25 years, applauded her fellow educator. “It’s easy to identify why we are gathered here,” she said. “He’s not only being recognized for his 32 years at Ranney School, he’s being recognized for his character and for his professionalism.”
Walling, who was hailed for his devotion to the school and its swim program and his determination to build the aquatic center now named after him into a top-notch facility, expects to spend another two years at Ranney School. At that time, after 35 years at the private school, he said he expects to retire along with his wife.