Leadership and trust are two important qualities that usually define whether a team has enough determination to be successful.
Coach Herman Boone, who spoke at Fairfield University’s MLK Convocation event last week, has embodied these values through his life as the former football coach of T.C. Williams High School, a role famously depicted by Denzel Washington in the Disney film Remember the Titans.
In 1971, when racial tensions were high as ever, Coach Boone was appointed to lead a newly integrated football team with three local high schools forming into one.
The former rivalries between the schools combined with the strain between the black and white players resulted in a team that was far from united.
“They were forced to integrate and they hated each other. Differences had to be put aside to become a Titan and amidst all the controversy, we had mission to mold a group of angry unfocused boys into a winning football team,” said Boone.
Because both the coaches and players were able to ignore race and put aside prejudices, the Titans not only had a perfect 13-0 record and won a state championship title, but they changed the outlook of their community.
“We achieved integration during an era when people were refusing it,” said Boone. “Everyone on the team had to respect each other, trust was the emotional glue that binded them together and it was able to have a great impact on all of us.”
One scene in particular that Boone discussed was when he took his players to the site of the Battle of Gettysburg, a moment in history that President Lincoln’s regarded as being “the moment when America united.”
“I took my players there so they could unite just as America did. After some struggling, our team learned to have one heartbeat and accept each other,” Boone said. “Racism is the fear of the unknown and the players showed the world that it was ok to accept diversity.”
Coach Boone and his team were able to translate success on the field to positivity around their community as well as the entire country, former President Nixon went as far as saying that the Titans were, “The team that saved Alexandria (VA).”
But at the time, Coach Boone couldn’t have realized the impact his team would have so many years later.
“As we marched through the state of Virginia to win a championship, I never looked at myself as being special. I was just a person that wanted to do right,” said Boone.
In an era where professional athletes make millions of dollars and college athletes are exposed to all sorts of temptations, the story of Coach Boone and the Titans reminds us what matters most in athletics: heart, respect and honor in representing your team.
“People said black and white could never work. The players did not look like each other and they didn’t talk like each other. But in the end, they learned to accept the soul of the individual,” said Coach Boone.
The inspiration that comes from the story of the Titans resonated throughout the audiencethat was present at the Quick Center as Coach Boone revealed the most important lesson to take from his past.
“You should not believe anything that you are not willing to say,” Boone said. “As a coach or any kind of leader, it’s important to play a role in building character. That’s what we did and that’s why being a former football coach is the greatest thing to ever happen to me.”