Former Titans coach encourages standing up to discrimination

By Meghan Finlayson

Staff Writer

Herman Boone, former high school football coach who is most well-known as the inspiration for the 2000 film “Remember the Titans,” visited campus on Monday. Boone, played by Denzel Washington in the movie, coached at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., and spoke to the University community about standing up against the injustice, segregation and discrimination that still exists today.

Boone began teaching and coaching in Virginia in 1958. Overall, his teams had 99 wins and only eight losses over nine years. The team he coached in 1966 was noted as “The Number-One Football Team in America” by Scholastic Coach’s Magazine.

In 1971, Boone was hired as head coach by the newly integrated T.C. Williams High School. He won the position over Bill Yoast, the coach of the team before the high school was integrated. Yoast became the assistant coach, which was an upset to the white community at the time. In working together, the two coaches put their differences aside and brought together an unfocused team in a town defined by prejudice. They worked to teach the team not only how to win a championship, but also how to be caring citizens and leaders in their community.

“Have the guts to speak up; true acceptance and diversity begins and ends with an individual,” Boone said.

Once, when he traveling with the team, he separated the buses into offense and defense positions, instead of by race, as the boys did when they divided on their own.

“These boys looked at me like I was out of my mind. Diversity was not even in their vocabulary,” Boone said. As time went on, the team came together. “I knew they didn’t like each other, but I demanded that they respect each other,” Boone said. 

He described his team as evolving into one with courage, tenacity and commitment.

“It was a heroic decision that these boys made. They shocked the nation by accepting the challenge of integration and diversity, and accepting the souls of each other…it was not about football, it was about incredible young men who found a way to talk to each other,” Boone said.

Boone emphasized the importance of having character and tolerance, and not losing a sense of humor.

“My parents taught me that hatred and prejudice are born out of fear. There was no place for that on my team.”

His coaching, combined with the boys’ determination, created an unstoppable force that eventually united the entire city.

“They found a way to celebrate their differences,” Boone said. Their team won the 1971 Virginia State Championship and was ranked second in the nation. As a result, the team gained national attention. “If you win with dignity and character, the world will tend to watch you,” He said.

As he wrapped up his speech, he left students with one final quote that inspired him and his team: “Remember these three words. Good. Better. Best. And by God do not rest until your good is better and your better is best.”

Overall, students seemed very happy when leaving the presentation.

“Seeing Coach Boone speak about the events that we have all seen in the movie was inspirational. The hope that he is trying to instill in young people is extremely powerful,” Katherine Griffith ’13 said.

The Bison head football coach, Joe Susan, was also present at the speech.

“The presentation … is one that echoes through our campus and into the world as we know it today. At times we are sheltered from the ‘real world.’ The more we know of the constant battle for diversity, the better prepared our students will be as they move from here and progress through life,” Susan said.
Boone has been named coach of the year six times, speaks at universities across the country, and has written for several magazines.
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