WARRIORS: Rotter, a Longtime Math Teacher, Baseball, Football Coach, Passed Away on July 24
ROCHESTER — Humble. Loyal. Passionate. Those are just a few of the words used to describe Justin Rotter by his friends, colleagues and former coaches.
Rotter, a Rochester High School math teacher, middle school football and assistant baseball coach passed away unexpectedly at 44 years old from a heart condition on July 24. Rotter left a permanent mark not only on the Warriors athletics program as a player and later a coach, but the students as a whole during his 19-year tenure as a math teacher.
Rotter, a 1994 graduate of Rochester High School, was the Warriors No. 1 pitcher his junior and senior years in 1993 and 1994. He led the Warriors in capturing the state baseball title his junior year, and shut down an Omak team in the semifinals while squaring off against Jason Romine, who was later drafted by the Colorado Rockies.
Larry Heinz, who was a social studies teacher at Rochester for 25 years, was Rotter’s baseball coach and later became his friend and colleague at the high school when Rotter returned to teach.
Heinz said Bill Lohr, a Centralia native who was an MLB scout for the Orioles, Cardinals and Twins, had high praises for Rotter on the mound.
“Lohr told me that he had a major league curveball and (Rotter) always got upset with me because I would say he was sneaky fast,” Heinz said. “He was upper 80s, but because kids were looking for his curveball he could throw the fastball right by them.”
The following year, Rotter, along with former MLB player Lyle Overbay, helped the Centralia Yard Birds American Legion team win the state title. He was also a two-year starter at quarterback for the Warriors football team, as well as a two-year starter at guard on the basketball team.
Bob Wollan, who was Rotter’s assistant baseball and basketball coach, remembers him as a fiery athlete who never let his competitiveness outweigh his humbleness.
“I’ve been thinking about him a lot,” Wollan said. “When I think of Justin, I think of somebody that was extremely competitive and very cool under pressure. In all the sports he played, he had this quiet confidence. In tough situations you knew he was going to make the right decision. When the lights shined brightest he played his best, especially as a pitcher.”
Wollan kept in touch with him over the years, as well. The two would go hunting over in Pullman while Rotter was finishing up his mathematics teaching degree at Washington State University, and later over in Thurston County when Rotter moved back to his hometown to take a math teaching job at his alma mater.
Rotter spent the past 19 years as a math teacher at Rochester High School, serving as the math department chair, on the union bargaining team, the curriculum committee and as the National Honor Society advisor.
Six years ago when Brad Quarnstrom was hired as the high school’s head baseball coach, the first person he called to help him run the team was Rotter. Quarnstrom has known Rotter his entire life. Their dads worked together and Rotter’s sister, Amy, was best friend’s with Quarnstrom’s wife during high school. Quarnstrom is three years younger than Rotter, and while the two weren’t friends in school, they crossed paths frequently and Quarnstom looked up to him growing up.
“I remember thinking, ‘Holy smokes, Justin Rotter’s throwing today. Awesome. Can’t wait to see this,’” Quarnstrom said.
Rotter became the one guy Quarnstrom could depend on these past six years as the two took the helm of the baseball team, whether it be summer ball, high school ball or winter workouts.
“He was my choice from day one,” Quarnstrom said. “He was rock-solid. He was as loyal as there is. Very meticulous in everything he did. Anything he did he was going to do it right.”
Rotter did a lot of behind-the-scenes work with athletics in Rochester, as well, including revamping the entire sprinkler system at Theodore Hoss Sports Complex.
“He never wanted any credit for anything,” Quarnstrom said. “It needed to be done and he wasn’t looking for any glory and didn’t take any payment for it. He did it because it needed to be done, and that’s the epitome of who he was.”
Rotter is survived by his high school sweetheart for the past 30 years and beloved wife for nearly 19 years, Jill Rotter; daughter Lauren Rotter and son Carson Rotter; sister Amy (Kyle) Hussey; parents Karen Marie Rotter and Dan Rotter, and Grandmother Dolores Alto.
His obituary states: “He loved spending time with his wife, two kids, family, and countless friends across Washington. Fatherhood was a particular passion for him; he loved playing and coaching baseball, basketball and football with his son, and teaching his daughter how to drive and attend her sporting events. It was such a blessing for him to have his daughter in class this year.”
Wollan will remember Rotter as one of those special guys who was funny and understood the bigger picture of sports. He made everyone feel important and equal, no matter who they were.
“He was a big part of that whole system,” Wollan said. “He was a guy that kids knew they could talk to and go to, just as a friend or whether they needed advice. He always had the kids’ best interest at heart. It’s a huge loss for Rochester and a huge loss for anybody who had the opportunity to be associated with him.”