Oneonta to honor Werner
Who can we, the southern Vermont community, thank for giving us the gift of legendary Arlington teacher, coach and administrator John Werner?
Surprisingly, it isn't a soccer player. It isn't a chemistry professor, and it isn't someone we will immediately recognize.
It is former SUNY Oneonta All-American swimmer Ted Bears.
You see, Bears was the man who got Werner hooked on Oneonta and it was there that Werner's love for soccer, teaching, and helping in the community grew.
Flash back to 1967. Werner, still in high school, trekked north from his home in North Bellmore, N.Y., to the campus of Oneonta. Coming to visit the school and look at its science department -- Werner wanted to major in chemistry -- his visit to the school took a detour to the pool.
In that pool, Bears was swimming his last collegiate dual meet. Bears -- who had never lost a race in his career -- was in the process of wrapping up his final home win. Werner, awestruck by the sight, decided right then and there that Oneonta was the place for him.
"I had never experienced something like that spirit and I said ‘Man, this is where I want to go,'" Werner recalled in a phone interview on Thursday. "So it just kind of fell into place."
And now, 47 years later, the college will honor a man that has claimed nearly every accolade available to him: The Red Dragons will induct Werner to the 16th class of the school's athletic Hall of Fame on Saturday, an honor that humbles Werner.
"I attribute a lot of the success I had coaching both at Arlington and at Castleton to the experiences I had at Oneonta and the people that influenced me," Werner said. "I had a wonderful education there, a wonderful athletic experience. I still, as I like to joke, bleed Oneonta Red when I'm not bleeding Castleton Green or Arlington Maroon."
Werner did not play soccer his first year at Oneonta after breaking his ankle in the first tryout of the year -- a lucky break, as Werner says in his Oneonta biography -- and instead focused on his other love, chemistry.
The broken ankle allowed Werner to excel in his chemistry classes, and when the time came for tryouts as a sophomore, Werner went back out and made the team. He played for the Red Dragons for the next three years under Coach Garth Stam, culminating in a senior season in which Werner was named the captain as a right back, was an All-SUNYAC selection, and received the SUNY Chancellor's Scholar Athlete of the Year award. To this day, Werner points at Stam as one of his biggest influences.
"My coach and I, we are still in touch every month," Werner said of Stam. "He is one of my main mentors in my life, same with some of my chemistry teachers."
Stam's influence shaped how Werner approached his life after Oneonta. After earning his masters in education, he took a job at Arlington to teach science and math. Werner also served as the athletic director for the Eagles for 17 years along with his 31 years as the soccer coach, winning a then-record 347 games and seven Vermont state championships. And through all of those years, he wanted to help make better young men, just like Coach Stam made Werner.
"It has been a great way to try and make a difference in young people's lives," Werner said. "And if I've been able to do that, I'm thrilled. And if I have, I owe a lot of that to Oneonta. Taking it right back to playing with Coach Stam and trying to do the right things."
Werner also noted how lucky he was to have coached at Castleton, where he resided from 2004 to 2012, as well.
"How lucky am I?" Werner said. "Here, you and I just chatted about what Oneonta has meant to me, then I end up getting to coach at Castleton, which is another very special place. I'm sure there are other places people feel this strongly about, but they are just special places."
Werner said that he knows quite a few of his friends who are making the trip to Oneonta on Saturday to see him inducted. Out of all those he knows that are coming, though, it's the Arlington girls soccer team that had him the most giddy.
"I do know, and was very tickled, that members of both the boys and girls soccer teams in Arlington want to go," Werner said. "The boys of course can't because they are in the John James tournament (which Werner won eight times), but I understand that the girls' coaches, both of which I am close with, they have kind of spearheaded it.
"It tickles me because I have worked with [the girls] a little bit behind the scenes, but I have never coached them," Werner added. "Ironically, I coached a lot of their parents! That tickled me to death."
Werner coached Dan Wood, the current girls varsity coach, on his powerhouse teams in the 1970s, while assistant coach Mike Keough was a longtime assistant for Werner. Werner also coached current boys coach Todd Wilkins in the early 1990s.
Saturday's induction ceremony will start at noon. Unfortunately for Werner, the men's soccer team is at Vassar College that day. Werner will get to see the women play, however, and he said he thoroughly looks forward to donning his alumni cap to cheer on the Red Dragons.
Werner is still involved in soccer throughout Vermont, assisting with coaching and playing clinics, and said he loves still being able to do it.
"I haven't left the game completely," Werner said. "And that is a wonderful way to share your experience and hopefully get other people to have the same great experience that you have had."
Still, Werner can't believe the fortunate breaks he has had in life. Reflecting back on his life, Werner offered up the perfect cliché.
"What do they say? You can't make this stuff up with how much luck I have had ending up in the right places."
No, no you can't.
Geoff Smith is the assistant sports editor at the Bennington Banner. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @GSmith_Banner.
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