Hundreds celebrate John Werner's life
It's a simple acronym that defines a legacy of a man that made a vast impact on the people of Arlington and those well beyond its town limits.
"Losing is not an option" is a credo the late John Werner lived by and it was an ideal he took to his last breath.
Hundreds of people came out to Werner Field at Arlington Recreation Park on Sunday to celebrate the life of Werner, the longtime Arlington boys soccer coach and community leader, who passed away after a long bout with cancer in early March at the age of 68.
Werner, a Long Island native, was beloved in his adopted hometown of Arlington for all his contributions. Whether it be on the sidelines, in the classroom or just in everyday life, Werner was a mentor to many.
As boys soccer coach at Arlington Memorial High School, his teams compiled a record of 346-108-31 in 31 seasons and won seven Vermont state championships. He also served as athletic director at AMHS and established a soccer camp and youth soccer in Arlington, which still runs strong to this day.
Werner coached nine seasons of men's soccer at Castleton University and was inducted into that school's athletic hall of fame. He compiled a record of 105-69-12, leading the Spartans to three North Atlantic Conference championships, three NCAA tournament appearances and three ECAC postseason appearances. He was named NAC coach of the year three times.
Werner was named National Federation of Interscholastic Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 1995. He was Vermont Soccer Coaches Association Coach of the Year award six times, the last in 2002, the NSCAA New England Coach of the Year award four times, and the Marble Valley League Coach of the Year on five different occasions. He is a member of the SUNY-Oneonta athletic Hall of Fame and Vermont Sports Hall of Fame.
Some of Werner's closest friends and family members addressed a full tent on Werner Field on what would have been Werner's 69th birthday to celebrate the man that John was and the legacy he left behind.
Jim Baker, a longtime friend of Werner, led the program. Speakers included Oneonta friend John Bucci, coaching friend Les Johnson, who coached at Essex, former player and current Arlington boys varsity soccer coach Todd Wilkins, former player and LINAO partner Brandon Smith, brother-in-law James Hubbard, former Castleton President David Wolk, coaching friend John Wright, primary caretaker Dr. Mike Welther, sister Jennifer Hubbard and lastly, Werner's son, JK.
A common thread that strung through every speaker Sunday was how thankful they were to know Werner and the constant inspiration he provided them in their own respective lives.
Johnson remembers meeting Werner and bonding over their love for the New York Yankees and the fact that both of their college's mascots were the Red Dragons, Werner at Oneonta and Johnson at Cortland. As their relationship developed, they went on to develop a Vermont youth soccer association and the Vermont Soccer Coaches Association together. Through it all, a lifelong friendship was formed between the two.
"John has touched so many people in so many different ways, whether he was your teacher, your coach, your mentor, he has made a positive effect on everyone in this area," Johnson said. "We need to take the touch that he had upon you and how can you pass that on to someone else. If you can do that, John's legacy will live on."
For Wilkins, who knew Werner for more than 30 years, first as a young kid playing soccer all the way up through succeeding him as the Eagles' soccer coach, a word that stuck with him when thinking of Werner was 'thankful.'
"I'm thankful I had Coach in my life for 30 years," said an emotional Wilkins addressing the crowd. "I'm thankful Coach and Judy decided this is where they're going to live. We're truly blessed that Coach and Judy picked our community. Coach could have gone anywhere in the country, but instead, he stayed right here."
Werner taught Wilkins, and so many more people, to give back and pass on what they have learned to the next generation. That is something Wilkins will forever be thankful for.
"You're the greatest Eagle that ever lived," Wilkins said. "I truly believe you're up there teaching lessons on a soccer field to a group of kids, creating new friendships."
When Smith was going through his own battle with cancer, Werner was constantly there for him. Together, they came up with the LINAO acronym and used it as a rallying effort to not only stay mentally strong, but raise money for the Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center. The LINAO campaign has raised more than $30,000 so far.
James Hubbard met Werner through coaching and eventually became his brother-in-law, after James married Werner's sister Jennifer. James Hubbard remembers all the fun moments, trips and the Thanksgiving dinners in Saint Albans, where Judy Werner is originally from.
Through it all, no matter how accomplished Werner was in the coaching ranks, James Hubbard was always most proud that Werner was his brother-in-law.
James Hubbard remembers all of the speeches Werner over the years, but points to his last one as one that really sticks with him. Sitting in a wheelchair in front of his caregivers, all Werner could do was thank them from the bottom of his heart. That was the last time he talked to Werner.
He finished his speech by ceremoniously rolling a soccer ball back to Werner's side of the field one more time.
Jennifer Hubbard read a psalm, before JK Werner finished out the celebration with a final speech.
JK Werner opted to talk about his father, the gardener.
He talked about the gardening trips he took with him and how his father always cultivated the ideal environment for the plants to grow. His father used that same concept in everything he did in his life.
"Cultivating the soil isn't the only thing to make a garden thrive," JK Werner said. "He said, 'in the garden, we set up the environment for the plants and we supply the water and nutrients and then we must step back.' Dad supplied love, care, energy and passion to his camps, his clinics, his teams, his classes, his friendships and his family. With these nutrients, they, like his gardens, flourished."
Adam Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.
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