By Jennifer Luna
Students at T.C Williams High School in Virginia were racially integrated in 1971 when the three public high schools in town were consolidated.
That fall, Coach Herman Boone was expected to overcome the racial tension to build a winning football team.
Boone, inspiration for the movie “Remember The Titans,” spoke Tuesday in Watson Fine Arts Center at St. Philip’s College.
Before he took the stage, a short clip of the movie played, showing Denzel Washington running the integrated squad through woods at night to arrive at dawn at the Gettysburg battlefield site in 1863 of the Civil War’s bloodiest battle.
“We’re fighting the same fight,” Washington told his screen team.
Then, he encourages the team to put their differences aside so hate doesn’t destroy them. The Titans were united by one goal, to win football games.
The audience welcomed Boone with a standing ovation.
“I guess we’ll settle this now, I don’t look like Denzel Washington,” Boone said to audience laughter.
The 600-seat auditorium was filled with students from St. Philip’s, St. Gerard High School and Comal ISD.
Boone said Washington read the script in a night, and wanted to play the role of the coach. The budget for the movie was $16 million. The director of the movie said Washington’s casting would put the film over budget.
Boone said Washington did not care about the pay, but insisted he would play the part to deliver the coach’s message: Overcome fear.
In 1961, Boone coached at E.J. Hays High School in North Carolina. During the nine years he coached at the school, Boone led the team to 99 wins and 8 losses, but was fired because he was black.
“First, I would like to congratulate everyone who is not afraid of taking the plunge in a sea of ideas,” Boone said.
Boone told a story about how his father could not read his own name, but he told Boone no one could stop the break of dawn, the sun will come up regardless if anyone is ready, but if someone does not want to make a difference in the world, then go back to sleep.
“Don’t forget your dreams, they have no expiration date,” Boone said.
Boone said the movie was about courageous young boys accepting the soul of another person, instead of judging them on skin color. The high school shocked the nation in 1971, when the team celebrated their differences.
Boone encouraged the audience to challenge themselves by making a difference in the world, “If not, then why are you here?”
Boone was hired over a white coach, and was expected to make the integration of two schools work.
“I can’t make them like each other, but I can make them respect each other,” he said.
Boone defined a team as a group of people with one vision, one dedication and one heartbeat. “And if I hear another heartbeat, I’m going to kill that other guy!” Boone joked.
Despite his toughness with his team, Boone recognizes his place in civil rights history. “It took Rosa Parks to sit, so Martin Luther King could march, so Barack Obama can run,” Boone said.
“Keep your dreams clear, your aim true, don’t ever give up, and if you land on your face, get your butt back up and get in the race,” Boone advised.
Boone ended his lecture with a poem from children’s author Dr. Seuss, “Oh! The Places You’ll Go!”
“Congratulations! Today is your day … You have brains in your head, and feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose … ” he quoted.