When renowned paleontologist Jack Horner was asked to name a favorite teacher to win an award, he picked Rolland Karlin.

Karlin, 61, a fifth-grade teacher from tiny Big Timber, has made his middle-school Science Olympiad team a powerhouse, winning 16 state championships over the past 25 years.

For at least that long, Karlin has worked with Horner, inviting him to lecture in Big Timber and bringing his fifth-graders and science teams to visit Horner's dinosaur fossils and other scientific marvels at the Museum of the Rockies.

"I'm so proud, so honored," Karlin said at the museum Tuesday, after posing with an oversized check for $1,000. It was awarded by the nonprofit TeachersCount, as part of the group's annual effort to recognize the "fabulous" teachers behind famous people.

"Jack's, like, world famous," Karlin said. "I'm Big Timber."

"Big Timber is a different kind of place - it's science-oriented, principally because of this man," Horner said. "Most towns are sports-oriented."

Horner credited "teachers like Rolland" who "get kids fired up about science - making it as competitive as sports."

Karlin has been teaching for 38 years, yet he still sounds fired up.

"I've enjoyed my teaching career immensely," Karlin wrote in his mini-biography. "Learning, teaching, trying new things and being with kids is exciting."

As he talked with reporters, Karlin cradled his right arm, paralyzed since he contracted polio at age 4. The disease affected his entire right side and forced him to spend time in an iron lung.

"God was good - everything came back but my arm," Karlin said.

He added he can still hunt, fish and dig ditches.

"It ain't slowing him down any," Horner said with admiration.

"You're going to find a dinosaur one of these days," Horner told Karlin.

The teacher said he may use the $1,000, donated by the Staples stores' foundation, to buy a global positioning system so that, if he ever does find a dinosaur fossil, he can pinpoint its location for Horner.

Horner, born 64 years ago in Shelby, said his own favorite teacher was his high school science teacher who, just like Karlin, was in charge of science fairs.

That teacher, Horner said, "finally realized I wasn't completely stupid." In most classes, he seemed stupid, Horner said, "because I was completely dyslexic."

"I failed all the tests, but I won the science fairs," Horner said. "I could do them at my own speed."

Karlin, who was named Montana's middle school science teacher of the year during President Bill Clinton's administration, said he's proud that many of his science students, as well as his own four children, have followed up on what they learned with him and gone on to become engineers, physical therapists, members of the military and teachers.

The Science Olympiad competition, held at Montana State University, has grown from 10 teams to about 45 teams and competition gets tougher every year, Karlin said. Last year Big Timber's sixth- to ninth-grade team came in second, but he predicted, "Next year we'll beat Corvallis!"

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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