'All-50 Team'

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Former UAlbany star earns coveted honor from school

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Some 50 years ago, Mark Werder was just a freshman at the University of Albany in upstate New York when he was approached in the fall of 1967 by a fellow frosh about joining a fledgling lacrosse team that he hoped to get off the ground the following spring.

Werder, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in Detroit who spent the bulk of his career as a commercial litigator for Honigman Miller Swartz & Cohn in Detroit, initially was reluctant to get involved in the launch, but did agree to suit up for the team if organizers received the “go ahead” from the powers-that-be at the college that is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system.

Last weekend, Werder returned to his alma mater to take a special bow as one of the trailblazers of the lacrosse program there, which now ranks among the finest in the country.

He also was saluted as a member of the “All-50 Team” at UAlbany, which recognized some of the “best student-athletes in the program’s rich history,” according to a press release from the school’s Sports Information Department. The honorees took to the field during halftime of last Friday’s annual “Spring Stomp” game against Binghamton, earning a rousing ovation from those gathered at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium, an 8,500-seat facility.

A midfielder, Werder was the “top scorer in the midfield for the first four years of the team, including 40 goals in the final club year in 1969,” according to the release, averaging a nifty 4 goals per game.

After two seasons as a club sport at UAlbany, the lacrosse program gained varsity status in 1970, receiving some $1,200 in “seed money from the university” to help fund equipment and uniform purchases. The step up to varsity status also afforded the team the opportunity to play a more demanding schedule, according to Werder.

“We played some big time lacrosse programs, including Towson, which I believe won the national title a few years later,” said Werder, who noted that the team’s travels produced an added benefit for players.

“We were all pretty excited to know that we got a ‘per diem’ when we were on the road,” he said with a smile.

Over the past 50 years, the program has competed in nine Division 1 NCAA Tournaments and has won eight American East Conference championships. Three players from the school have won the Tewaaraton Trophy, awarded annually to the top player in the country.

The 2018 version of the Great Danes currently sports an 11-2 record and a No. 5 ranking in Division 1 lacrosse. The team, coached by Scott Marr, was ranked as high as No. 2 before losing last week to Yale, the nation’s top rated squad.

As a high-schooler in the small town of LaFayette near Syracuse, Werder had made a local name for himself in the sport that historians believe descended from a tribal game played by Native Americans in the mid-19th century. At tiny LaFayette High, Werder helped lead the Lancers to four straight state titles in lacrosse.

“LaFayette is near the Onondaga Indian Reservation south of Syracuse, and historically the Native Americans there have had a deep cultural, almost religious respect for lacrosse,” Werder explained. “It is a sport that is particularly popular in that region and in other areas along the east coast, and kids grow up playing it in the spring just like they do baseball in other parts of the country.”

Werder attended last weekend’s festivities with his wife, Abbey, whom he first met in a short story class at the university. A retired CPA, Abbey and her husband have four children and seven grandchildren. Each of their three sons played lacrosse in high school with two playing the sport at the collegiate level.

Yet, as the father of three former lacrosse players, Werder can take special pride now in being a bit of a pioneer in the sport, at least as far as the University of Albany in concerned.

“We all got a kick out of being part of something new, which now has turned into something very special at the school,” said Werder, who was nominated for the small school All-America team as a senior at Albany. “We’re definitely a greying herd, but it was fun to be recognized for what we did and to know that we opened doors for others.”
 

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