After 40 years, Werner not slowing down
It's a classic soccer scene John Werner has witnessed for 40 summers now at Fisher Elementary School in Arlington.
Werner discovered his passion for soccer in middle school when the game started to gain popularity and traction in the United States. He left his hometown in North Bellmore, Long Island to play at SUNY Oneonta under long-time Red Dragons coach Garth Stam. Following the end of his collegiate soccer career in 1971, he moved to Arlington to teach and coach at Arlington Memorial High School.
After 31 years working in various roles, Werner retired, but his time coaching was far from over. Werner was offered the head coaching position at Castleton University, leading the men's soccer team for nine years.
Directing the annual Arlington Soccer Camp is another dream Werner continues to pursue. He started the area's youth program in 1975, and a summer camp followed in 1978. With the help of his wife, Judy, Mike Keough, and talented players from Oneonta, the Arlington Soccer Camp became a highly anticipated annual tradition in its early years.
What's the key to success of Werner's camp? For one, he believes camp "should always be very affordable."
Werner's never said no to a kid. Secondly, his overarching philosophy about soccer attracts more than 100 players of all ages from the surrounding area. Werner gathers everyone together at the beginning and end of the week to remind them of his camp's intentions.
1. Have fun. 2. Improve skills and knowledge of the game. And maybe most importantly: 3. Be nice to each other.
"If you take care of number three, numbers one and two will happen," Werner said.
His emphasis on soccer being fun and much more than winning is highly motivating. He savors the moments when a kid new to the game says, "Oh, I might be good at this."
Werner's son, JK, grew up playing soccer at his father's camp. He describes the "kid-first mentality" as what's so amazing about camp and what sports should be focused on.
If you point to any kid on the field, Werner will know his/her name. Not only will he remember it on the pitch, but he'll recall it years later at the grocery store. When asked about his exceptional name recognition, he said, "It's a God-given ability. I'm very grateful for it." This
ability speaks volumes about his dedication to be a role model.
It's been especially rewarding for Werner to see his players from Arlington now coach at his camp.
Todd Wilkins, coach of the Arlington varsity boys team, believes the camp is so unique, because there's the social component of making friends and being a team player in addition to learning the skillset of soccer.
"Kids keep coming back as long as they can, because they enjoy it so much," Wilkins said.
Wilkins feels blessed to have Werner around and active in the soccer community.
"I couldn't ask for a better mentor," he said.
Hooper Pickering is another coach and former player of Werner.
He appreciates how camp "instills in players [the responsibility] to give back to the community."
Counselor Jared Lacoste can attest to that responsibility. Lacoste, a 2017 graduate of Arlington, participated in the camp since first grade and volunteered throughout high school. To him, giving back and being a leader are big takeaways.
As a recipient of the John Werner Award, Lacoste holds great respect for Werner, acknowledging his constant effort to "help others on the field and in the classroom."
Werner thanks the local sponsors who contribute to Arlington Soccer Camp, especially Vermont Magazine and Chem-Clean, as well as the community for advertising the camp through word of mouth.
Werner chose to stay in Vermont, because he knew he was "building something special here." He thanks everyone for the encouragement to follow his dream of building a solid soccer program in the area.
Although this summer may be the 40th anniversary, there's no sign Werner will `retire' from soccer or his beloved Arlington Soccer Camp anytime soon. Werner continues to serve as an inspiration to players, coaches, and parents alike for his refreshing philosophy, knowledge of
the game and beyond, and perseverance to make an impact.
He credits Coach Stam for shaping him into the coach he is today. Little does he know how many players view himself as their Coach Stam. "I always wanted to teach and coach. It's what I was put here to do," he said.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.