Herman Boone, the former high school football coach remembered for coaching the T. C. Williams High School Titans in Alexandria, Va., to an undefeated season and the Virginia state championship in 1971, spoke on Wednesday in Hansen Theatre.
“Nothing gives me better thrills as going around the world and talking about what these young men stood for,” Boone said. “I chose to talk to you this evening about embracing diversity.”
Boone was portrayed by Denzel Washington in the 2000 blockbuster film, “Remember the Titans.”
“The movie ‘Remember the Titans’ is based in a time when America was undergoing the most stressful times in the history of our country,” Boone said.
T.C.Williams High School has one of the most diverse student bodies in America, with students from over 84 countries speaking more than 56 languages in its halls and classrooms. The football team’s diversity set the tone for the entire community in a time of tension, conflict and mistrust. In addition, his coaching created the biggest uproar that Virginia has seen.
“I did not plan any of this,” Boone said. “It just came natural.”
The city of Alexandria decided to totally integrate its school system and appointed Herman as its first consolidated head football coach at T.C. Williams High School over white coach Bill Yoast, who had several years seniority and a steadfast citywide following.
“At that time, much of Americans believed that a white coach was more qualified than a black coach,” Boone said. “The white kids came up to me and said ‘we don’t like that you’re black’ and the black kids said ‘we don’t like that you’re not black enough for us.’ Although, I knew I was qualified.”
Boone used football, the ultimate team sport, to create respect and trust among the students.
“To some people, ‘Remember the Titans’ is not about football. ‘Remember the Titans’ is about respect, character and how one can accept the soul of an individual,” Boone said. “That will take you to where respect becomes trust, and trust becomes the emotional lube that tends to bind all people and communities together.”
These young boys stood for respect, embracing diversity, teamwork, leadership and the importance of character and community involvement at a time in Virginia when it was neither popular nor, in many cases, safe. Boone described the team as a group of people with one vision, to win. With one objective, to win with dignity and with one heartbeat.
Boone said to his players, “I can’t make you guys like each other. Heck, I don’t like most of you, but you will respect each other.”
Diversity isn’t just limited to gender, race and perhaps an ethnicity, but true diversity includes age, religion, socioeconomic status, ability and sexual orientation, Boone said.
“Diversity is not just about the color of your skin, it’s about who you are as an individual,” he said. “Diversity builds upon the growing pains and suffering of our time.”
“We can change this if you want to,” Boone said. “Everyone at this university needs to take diversity into your own hands. It only takes one person to make a difference in diversity, and that is you. We, here in United States, live in the only country in the world where all people from every country in the world can call our country home.”
According to Boone, to make a difference requires strength, motivation and for everyone to be able to stand tall and fight for what they believe in.
“Don’t ever let anyone turn you around because of your beliefs,” said Boone.