It's not in his job description, but Tony Holland serves as an administrator, counselor and mentor at Mount View Middle School in Marriottsville.

When preteen angst sets in, Mr. Holland can ease the tension with a smile, a kind word and perhaps a remembrance of his own struggles.

When a fight erupts, Mr. Holland can jump in and diffuse the tension.

When students leave a mess on the floor of the cafeteria, Mr. Holland can mop it up efficiently.

After all, he's the custodian.

Recognizing that they could all learn something from the man who keeps the halls clean, administrators and teachers at Mount View will all don dark-blue work pants and light-blue cotton work shirts tomorrow. The gesture is one way the school will honor the 31-year-old building supervisor on "Tony Holland Day."

"I think we all see him, and the kids see him, on a par with the teachers," said eighth-grade English teacher Syndy Shilling. "Every one of the kids knows him, loves him and respects him."

"Respect," echoes eighth-grade science teacher Vaughn Bradley. "That's what I admire about him the most."

Mr. Bradley calls the custodian a mentor who helps coach children in the game of adulthood. In the hallways, in the cafeteria, on the basketball court, "Mr. Tony," as the students know him, is always ready to hear about students' triumphs and travails.

"He's cool," said eighth-grader Jacob L. Smith of West Friendship, "He, like, helps us out. If we need a quarter, he'll lend us a quarter."

Asked how Mr. Holland measures up to most teachers, Jacob pauses. "It's funner talking to Tony," he finally said. "He's, like, younger. He understands."

Eighth-grader Jessica Wheat, 13, also believes age has something to do with Mr. Holland's appeal.

"If you get in trouble, he'll understand why you do it, because he's younger," she said.

One student who enjoyed kicking his sandals into the air accidentally catapulted one onto the roof of the school, she recalled. Another managed to fling his keys onto an out-of-reach window ledge. Jessica said Mr. Holland bailed out both students, rescuing the lost property without official sanctions.

"He's not one of your teachers, so you don't have to be careful around him," said eighth-grader Greg Green, 13.

That relationship may change in a few years. Mr. Holland, who left a scholarship at a small Pennsylvania college in 1985 to begin full-time work, has been taking evening courses at Coppin State College. He's a sophomore majoring in adaptive physical education, which involves teaching disabled children.

"And I'm going to hire him," declares Mount View Principal Marion Payne.

If hiring a custodian as a teacher sounds odd, Ms. Payne said Mr. Holland's current employment had an unusual beginning: He was recommended by the parent of a student transferring to the new school.

That parent, Joanne Hoyle, said her endorsement came from her son's experience at Glenwood Middle School, where Mr. Holland was building supervisor from 1990 to 1993. "I was so impressed when he went to Glenwood, because my son wanted to stay after school and play flag football," largely because of encouragement from Mr. Holland, Ms. Hoyle said. "I guess Tony gives everyone a good feeling . . . he cares about the kids."

Mr. Holland also shares some of the students' background, growing up in Cooksville and attending Lisbon Elementary School and Glenwood Middle School.

"They've never had a problem that I probably didn't have myself," he said.

"I've broken up many a fight, but I'll never send them to the office, because they don't even know why they're fighting," said Mr. Holland, who played football at Milford Mill High School in Baltimore County's Lochearn area. But he thinks for a moment and adds: "But when I've had enough, I've had enough. I will send them."

Teachers at the school praise his ability to connect with students in a way that might be more difficult for a figure of authority.

"If we have any disciplinary problems, Tony takes them on," Ms. Shilling said. When students can't cooperate enough to do their required community service work, Mr. Holland puts them to work.

Mr. Holland worked four years as a carpet installer in county schools before becoming building supervisor at Glenwood and then Mount View.

When he leaves work for the day, it's off to sports practice. In the spring, Mr. Holland coaches boys' track at Howard High School and in the fall is assistant coach of the high school's junior varsity football team.

While a student at Milford Mill High, Mr. Holland was a state champion sprinter and a member of a state champion relay team. He continued to win track trophies in college.

Although he regrets leaving college, Mr. Holland said he loves his job and can't understand why everyone is making such a fuss about him at Mount View.

With a broad smile and a shy, downward glance, Mr. Holland dismisses it all:

"Doing this is easy -- all you have to do is like people."

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