‘Titans’ coach speaks of team-building

Herman Boone, the coach depicted in the movie “Remember the Titans,” speaks to a full house Thursday at Penn College. MARK NANCE/ Sun-Gazette

Herman Boone, the T.C. Williams High School football coach portrayed by Denzel Washington in the movie “Remember the Titans,” spoke to a crowd of a few hundred at Penn College’s Klump Academic Center Auditorium Thursday evening as part of a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the theme “Community Unity: Moving Forward Together.”

Boone took over T.C Williams in 1971 after three schools combined to make one in Alexandria, Va. One of the schools was all white, one was all black and the other was about 95 percent white, according to Boone. Though the administration chose Boone for the head coaching position, he felt Bill Yoast (who went 99-8 with five state championships in nine years prior at E.J. Hayes) was more qualified to be the head coach. Boone retained him as a defensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

The team consisted of 126 players and Boone couldn’t tell you how many kids were white and how many were black, but he was later told that nine white players started on offense and eight black players started on defense and there were no two-way starters.

Boone, at first, also had some problems with his players not wanting to play for him. Some players threatened not to have a football program, some white players wouldn’t play for him because he was black and some black players wouldn’t play for him because he wasn’t black enough.

“The world is going to watch you guys because you’re the answer to solve the problem,” Boone said.

He spoke of how it was difficult just to get a cup of coffee and how he was set up to fail by the administration. But a turning point for the team and the community was a trip to Gettysburg that showed the players how to trust each other and how to respect one another. Boone didn’t care if the players liked each other, he stated that he sometimes didn’t even like them, but they had to respect one another and Boone knew he had a team when on the bus trip back from Gettysburg that a black player was dancing in the walkway of the bus to country western music.

“These young men taught the world how to overcome your fear of diversity and they taught us how to accept the soul of an individual rather than reject any individual based on the color of their skin, and although from vastly different backgrounds, races, religions and cultures, these boys in Alexandria, Virginia found a way to put their differences aside and not only be able to get along and not kill each other, but to build a team along the way,” Boone stated in front of local high school and college coaches and athletes, among others in attendance.

“They showed the world that they were not afraid to take a plunge for what they believe in by learning to talk to each other and create trust among themselves and that trust became respect and that respect become the emotion that built that team into one of the most powerful football teams America has ever seen,” said Boone.

During his nine years as head coach of T.C. Williams, the Titans went 94-6 and the 1971 team that is portrayed in the film went 13-0, won the state championship and was the No. 2-ranked team in the nation.

Boone used the final 30 minutes to read a long excerpt from King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail while pleading to parent’s to teach their children more about King.

“Do our children know that Dr. King’s name was Michael King at birth? His name was changed to Martin when he was five years old. Do our children know that when he was in high school, Dr. King did so well that he skipped both the ninth and 12th grades?,” Boone proclaimed.

Boone continued to tell more stories about King’s younger life and when asked if King would approve of today’s world and society, Boone answered:

“If Dr. King were alive today, what do you think he would say to us this evening? I think I know. … I think he would say, lastly, ladies and gentlemen, we must all demand that our children pull their pants up so they can take their rightful place as senior management in their country. Like the Titans, we can not take a day off. We must do this because these are Dr. King’s dreams.”