Titans’ coach says diversity still seeks improvement

Rebecca Mohr

Experience reflected in ‘Remember the Titans’ promotes valuable lessons

Former football coach at T.C. Williams High School Herman Boone talks about racial tensions at the Akron-Summit County Public Library Sunday afternoon in Akron. The story of Boone was depicted in the Disney film “Remember the Titans.” Daniel Owen | Daily

Credit: Ron Soltys

The audience applauds politely waiting for the man who inspired thousands. A short section of Remember the Titans is shown, causing some in the audience to emotionally react. Then there is an eerie silence.

A man walks on the stage and suddenly the whole auditorium fills with applause. This is the man behind the movie, the man who led a newly integrated football team to victory when no one thought it could be done: coach Herman Boone.

On Sunday, Boone spoke to an audience of more than 600 people at the Akron-Summit County Public Library about his experiences living out Martin Luther King Jr.’s work and uniting the Titan football team while the world was in chaos.

In 1971, Alexandria, Va., was integrating its white and black schools. The entire country was in turmoil about integration under the federal law, and Alexandria was just starting to face its racial problems.

“It was a time where people thought it was okay to wake up angry,” Boone said.

Boone was hired to take the head coaching job at the recently integrated high school, T.C. Williams.

“I originally did not want to take the coaching job under the conditions of being asked based on the color of my skin,” Boone said. “I wanted the job based on my previous record and ability to coach.”

Even though tensions ran high, Boone stated how important communication and respect were and still are.

“You have to talk to one another,” Boone said. “Once you start talking you realize that all humans have some similarities. Just try talking to someone before hating them. Diversity is founded on the principles of communication.”

Being able to talk to one another helped the Titan football team come together against all odds, but Boone said a sense of humor helped, too.

“You have to have a sense of humor to have relief in this world,” he said. “A sense of humor will change narrow-minded thinking.”

In the movie, Boone is portrayed as a dictator-like figure. Although he calls himself a tough coach, Boone said he never faked caring. Boone may have taught the entire city of Alexandria how to work together no matter what their skin color, but he also learned some lessons from his players.

“Louie (a popular white player) lived in the last house of what was considered the white neighborhood and the first home in the black neighborhood,” Boone said. “He let the other white kids know that it was cool to be friends with the black kids.”

Boone said he sees an improvement in diversity today, but we still have a long way to go.

“I think that people are in their comfort zones,” Boone said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but education is the key to moving forward. We need to educate people so people can accept a person on their soul, not their appearance. Invite people who don’t talk and look like you into your world of experience.”

Boone said he didn’t coach the team to become famous or to make a movie 30 years later.

“I did it then because it needed to be done,” Boone said.

Remember the Titans was a blockbuster, but the story hit deeper than that.

“Someone had to tell the story, and it was time,” Boone said. “The glitter of life doesn’t make you a man or woman, it’s your beliefs and how you live your life.”

“Respect is the emotional tie that bonds communities together,” Boone said. “Take the time to stand up and speak out.”

Contact features correspondent Rebecca Mohr at [email protected].