Coaching a football team with unruly teenagers is tough enough as it is. But coaching an integrated team whose minds are filled with prejudice, fear, and bias towards one another is practically impossible. But, in 1971, and against all odds, Coach Herman Boone did precisely that. He led the Titans to victory in the Virginia State Championship.
At a time when racial tensions were sky-high, Boone, along with his assistant coach, Bill Yoast, showed the students from T.C. Williams High that baseless hatred came from ignorance and that all they needed to heal racism was enough courage to get to know the other side. Their incredible football season inspired the film “Remember the Titans.” And while Disney dramatized half of the movie, their story is still a valuable lesson to us all.
Herman Boone is no longer with us, but his legacy lives on. Here are some things you might not know about this legendary coach.
He Lost Both His Parents at 15
Born in 1935, in Rocky Mount, NC, Herman Boone grew up the youngest of 12 children. Such a big family was a blessing because, at only 15, Boone experienced the unthinkable. He lost both his parents in the same month. Luckily, he had 11 older siblings to take care of him.
Despite the loss, Boone never gave up on life. He attended North Carolina’s Central University and studied hard to graduate with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in physical education. Shortly after, he landed his first coaching job at the Luther H. Foster High School in Blackstone, Virginia.
He Coached America’s Number One Football Team
In 1961, Herman decided it was time to return to his home state, North Carolina, where he began coaching the all-black E.J. Hayes High School, football team. In his nine-year-run, he led the team to 99 staggering wins and only eight losses. His achievements didn’t go unnoticed.
In 1966, his football team was named the number one team in all of America by Scholastic Coach’s Magazine. Boone’s coaching skills were unprecedented, and he quickly gained the public’s attention. He was crowned coach of the year six times by several national magazines.
The Town Wasn’t Ready for a Black Coach
In 1969, E.J. Hayes High School went through a period of change following a new desegregation plan. One of the main changes was demoting Boone to assistant coach, because according to the school, “This town just is not ready for a black coach,” to which he responded, “I’m not a black coach. I am a coach who happens to be black.”
Boone resigned and left the school altogether. But he wasn’t out of work for long. His coaching skills drew the attention of Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High School. They quickly recruited him as head coach, choosing him over a white and more experienced coach, Bill Yoast.
Boone Arrived at a Tough School
At the time of Boone’s arrival, racial restlessness was widely present in Alexandria, and schools were forced to integrate so that both black and white students could get to know each other. For that reason, T.C. Williams High School was no soft ground to coach on.
It was a boiling hodgepodge of three public high schools merged into one, and the diversity in the halls was a challenge. Both black and white students were enraged and struggled to accept their new situation. But that never scared Boone. He took the opportunity to help the school grow.