Boone continues to be a Titan of diversity

Herman Boone, the high school coach made famous by Denzel Washington in the movie ''Remember the Titans,'' greets Coast Guard Academy Diversity Officer Dr. Brian Gates, left, Monday in New London. Boone later addressed the corps of cadets as part of Eclipse Week, a celebration of diversity at the academy.
Herman Boone, the high school coach made famous by Denzel Washington in the movie ''Remember the Titans,'' greets Coast Guard Academy Diversity Officer Dr. Brian Gates, left, Monday in New London. Boone later addressed the corps of cadets as part of Eclipse Week, a celebration of diversity at the academy. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

New London - Herman Boone, the former high school football coach portrayed by Denzel Washington in the hit movie "Remember the Titans," didn't set out every day to live a life worthy of a movie script.

"You do your job," Boone said, "and if you do your job well, people tend to watch and place a meaning."

Then again, Boone's late father always told him to prepare to make a difference.

"'If you don't plan to make a difference, take your butt back to sleep,'" he said.

Boone, 78, the keynote speaker Monday for the Coast Guard Academy's 39th Annual Eclipse Week, promoting diversity and inclusion, continues to make a profound difference.

The first head coach at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., following the school's integration in 1971, Boone was responsible for uniting the team's black and white players, many of whom were never in the presence of anyone of a different race.

Having done so successfully and winning the Virginia state championship with a record of 13-0, highlighting his coaching career, Boone continues to travel the country as a motivational speaker, emphasizing the hallmarks of diversity, respect, teamwork and leadership.

Boone, who met with the academy's assistant superintendent, Eric C. Jones on Monday prior to addressing the corps of cadets, said the key to solidifying the Titans was trust.

"Trust becomes respect, respect turns to glue," Boone said. "I'll talk to you the way I talked to them, 'I demand one thing. I don't care if you like each other. Hell, I don't like half of you. But you will respect each other.'"

It was a frightening time, during which Boone would find items thrown through the window of his home, the line to his air conditioning system cut and the outside of his house covered in toilet paper. Boone was given the job over popular white coach Bill Yoast.

Boone admits to being "scared to death" at times.

"Not so much for me, but for my three little daughters," he said. "I was scared to get up and look at my house. I was scared for my children to walk home from school. You never knew what to expect.

"... I, as a black man, was guilty of a crime based on my skin."

Boone was later praised by President Richard Nixon, who said "the team saved the city of Alexandria."

Boone, at first, was concerned with a few of the liberties Disney took in filming "Remember the Titans," shot in Marietta, Ga.

The coach didn't, for instance, make his team run to the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pa., during training camp at 3 a.m. The Titans took a bus. And it was a little earlier than that at 9 p.m.

Also, All-American Gerry Bertier was not injured in an automobile accident until after the championship game, not before as depicted in the film.

The integrity of the movie remained the same, however, which pleased Boone. The portrayal of Boone by Denzel Washington resulted in a friendship between the two, with Boone calling the actor "the finest human being on the face of the earth."

Boone, who says coaching is a human touch, still lives in the same house in Alexandria with his wife Carol. He keeps in touch with his former players and knows the names of their children, he said, and their children's children.

He maintains his sense of humor, all the while still striking a commanding presence. And he continues to deliver a message of equality.

"I enjoy dealing with people that are going to replace me," he said. "That's why I continue to travel throughout the world.

"... On the first day I met them, the white kids said, 'We don't like the fact you're black.' The black kids said, 'We don't like the fact you're not black enough.' ... Diversity. I never heard that word before. Diversity is not the color of your skin; it's who you are as an individual. I told them, 'Character comes first before you play for me.'"

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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