Lacrosse veteran ages well at CCC

April 25, 1994|By Kevin Eck | Kevin Eck,Contributing Writer

With his face concealed under his helmet, Catonsville Community College defenseman Tony Werner appears to be an ordinary lacrosse player.

When the helmets are removed after the game, however, he is easily distinguished from the other players.

Werner's mature features reveal him to be a man among boys.

At 36 years old, Werner is the oldest freshman player in college lacrosse today, nearly twice the age of his teammates and opponents.

"When lining up to shake hands after the game, some players on opposing teams don't recognize me as a player and they say 'nice game, coach.' More than a couple times I get 'nice game, sir,' " Werner said.

A 17-year veteran of the Anne Arundel County Police Department with a wife and two children, Werner has seized the opportunity to use lacrosse in his pursuit of a degree in elementary education.

"With three years to go before I can retire from the police department, I view this as a chance to start a second career, which a lot of people don't have the opportunity to do," he said.

After graduating from Glen Burnie High School in 1976, Werner -- a second-team All-Metro lacrosse player -- was offered lacrosse scholarships by several colleges.

But he decided that other priorities took precedence over college.

"Working was one," he said. "Wanting to buy a car was another."

In January 1977, Werner was hired as a police cadet. His appetite for lacrosse was satisfied by playing on club teams.

Werner took part in forming what later became the Bud Light Lacrosse Club. A club all-star, Werner helped Bud Light make 14 consecutive appearances in the club playoffs and win two championships.

His transformation from weekend warrior to student athlete came about through Werner's association with Catonsville Community College lacrosse coach Dave Mintzer, whom Werner had met 10 years ago during scrimmages between Bud Light and Catonsville.

"I always used to kid [Mintzer], telling him I have some eligibility left," Werner said. "He'd say: 'OK, old man. One day I'll get you out there.' "

Said Mintzer: "I told him if he was ever serious about coming to Catonsville that we'd help him pay for his tuition."

As Werner began to contemplate life after the police force, the prospect of using lacrosse to further his education didn't seem as far-fetched as it once had.

After discussing the situation with his wife Beth, Werner was headed back to the classroom and onto the lacrosse field.

"I was thrilled," Beth said. "I had no reservations at all. I know he's in good physical shape."

The rigors of practicing daily, however, took a toll on Werner initially.

"After the first couple days of practice I was sore," he said. "But after two weeks, it was business as usual. I've never been in better shape."

Although Werner never doubted his abilities, his teammates at Catonsville needed some convincing.

"At first, it was a little weird playing with people that young," Werner said. "At our first meeting, they thought I was another assistant coach. When they found out I was a player, they were apprehensive as to what I could do as far as running with them.

"After the first couple practices, they realized I wasn't out there as a sideshow. I was an actual component of the team. Now our relationship is just one of mutual respect."

Far from being a sideshow, Werner is indeed an integral part of the team. He is an excellent defenseman who always plays the opponent's best attackmen.

"He comes to play," Mintzer said. "His skill level is excellent. And he brings years of experience with him. He is a wonderful addition to the team due to leadership."

It's become a cliche to refer to a player as a "coach on the field," but the phrase has never been more appropriate.

Werner was the head lacrosse coach at Glen Burnie from 1990-1992 and was an assistant at Northeast for eight years.

He is careful not to talk down to his teammates, however.

"I don't want the other players to think of me as a coach, I want them to think of me as a teammate," Werner said. "I try to repeat to them what the coaches are telling them from a player's standpoint."

Although Werner quickly adjusted to the physical demands of the sport, the long hours he and his family have to endure has been a strain.

After working a 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift, Werner has lacrosse practice from 3:30 to 5.

Then he's off to class from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. two days a week. He also has a class from 7 to 10 once a week.

Additionally, Werner -- who's taking 12 credits this semester -- has to set aside time to study and to be with his wife and their 10-year-old son and 11-month old daughter.

"We've had some days where the baby was sick and I wonder if I'm doing the right thing, if I took too much of a load," Werner said. "But we've worked through it. I would never have been able to do this without my wife's support."

Werner is uncertain where he will continue his education after departing from Catonsville next year, but wherever he goes, he hopes to take his lacrosse stick with him.

"If I have an opportunity to keep playing, I most certainly would like to try it," he said. "I'd love to be the first 40-year-old to play college lacrosse."

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