Herman Boone, who spoke at Darton State College on Wednesday, took over the head football coaching position in Alexandria, Va., in 1971 and helped the integration process of not only the team, but also the town. Disney made the inspirational story into a movie in 2000 and cast Denzel Washington as Boone.
ALBANY — Herman Boone was thrust into a head football coaching position in Alexandria, Va., at the height of integration in 1971.
The choice of a black man to lead the program at T.C. Williams High School didn’t please many.
“It seemed those were times when everybody in America woke up angry,” Boone told the audience at Darton State College Wednesday where he was the keynote speaker.
Boone, who was portrayed by Denzel Washington in the 2000 film “Remember the Titans,” told pieces of his story about how he led the T.C. Williams High team through racial division and adversity en route to claiming a state title during the ’71 season after he was appointed to be the first consolidated head coach in Alexandria.
“Our first team meeting, the whites said they didn’t like the fact that a black was head coach,” said Boone, who was chosen over fan favorite Bill Yoast for the coaching position. “Then the blacks stood up after that and said they didn’t like the fact I wasn’t black enough for them.”
Boone had a no-win situation on his hands, and it got worse after practices began.
The players from different backgrounds and cultures continued to separate themselves from each other. Boone took his players to football camp at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania and had them run as a team, including a stop at the cemetery where boys their age died a century earlier in the Civil War that divided a country — a scene that was later retold in the Disney movie.
There they came together and when Boone “saw one of my black players dancing to country and western,” he knew he had formed a team.
“I wanted one heartbeat,” Boone said. “I told them, ‘If I heard two heartbeats, I’m going to kill the other sucker.’ ”
Boone’s first Titans team went unbeaten as portrayed in the film and finished the season ranked No. 2 in the nation.
“They didn’t make a movie about that team because it won a state championship,” said Boone, now 76. “It was because this team was the first to become a team of diverse players who didn’t look like each other, didn’t talk like each other.”
Boone’s address Wednesday — “Becoming a Titan in Tough Times” — urged students at Darton to never quit and continue through adversity as he did in that first season at T.C. Williams. He also asked the audience to encourage and give praise to others often and to remember hard work comes before results.
“Success only comes before work in the dictionary,” he said.
Boone continued coaching nine more seasons and never had a losing team but left the profession in 1981. More information on Boone and the legendary ’71 Titans football team can be found online at www.71originaltitans.com.