TOWSON, Md. - As the highlight of the first Doc Minnegan Day at Towson University, Herman Boone, one of the most legendary leaders of the last 50 years, was the featured guest speaker.
He spoke to more than 600 Tiger student-athletes and coaches in the Ballroom at the West Village on Tuesday evening.
The inspiration for the popular movie, “Remember the Titans,” Herman Boone was the head football coach at T.C. Williams High School in northern Virginia in 1971. An African-American, he was thrust into the middle of a turbulent time when desegregation became the law in Virginia.
As a result, three segregated high schools were merged into one, T.C. Williams High School.
“It was a very stressful time in the history of our nation,” Coach Boone recalled. “We were fighting a very unpopular war in Vietnam, there were demonstrations everywhere, the Pentagon Papers were another controversy and there were those tragic shootings at Kent State.
“Nobody was happy with the desegregation that was going on,” he said. “I was named as the head coach of a team where the players did not like each other – and it wasn’t just racial. They were also heated rivals.”
Coach Boone recounted how things were back then. He says, “Blacks and whites lived in different worlds. Now, the superintendent wanted me to get them to like each other. I thought he was out of his mind.”
When Coach Boone held his first team meeting, everyone sat apart. Players and coaches sat separately by race.
Then the coach told them, “I cannot make you like each other but I can make you respect each other. If anyone has a problem playing on an integrated team, don’t come back.”
When the team loaded on two buses to go away for two weeks of pre-season practice, Coach Boone wasn’t surprised to see all the whites on one bus and all the blacks on the other bus.
He recalls, “I had everyone get off those buses and re-load. I think everyone on the team was cursing me under their breath.”
At the two-week camp which was held in Pennsylvania, things weren’t going well until the coach packed his team into buses and took them to Gettysburg, the scene of the most famous battle of the Civil War.
In recalling one of the most famous scenes from the movie, Coach Boone reveals that the movie wasn’t entirely accurate. He said, “In the movie, they had me lead the team on a long run to Gettysburg. That didn’t happen. It wouldn’t have a smart thing for me to lead the team on a long run. We took the buses.”
However, the scene at Gettysburg actually happened and it was the place where Coach Boone finally brought his team together.
He told them, “This is where they fought the battle of Gettysburg. Fifty thousand men died right here on this field, fighting the same fight that we are still fighting among ourselves today. This green field right here, painted red, bubblin' with the blood of young boys. Smoke and hot lead pouring right through their bodies. Listen to their souls, men. I killed my brother with malice in my heart. Hatred destroyed my family. You listen, and you take a lesson from the dead. If we don't come together right now on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed, just like they were. I don't care if you like each other or not, but you will respect each other. And maybe we'll learn to play this game like men.”
From that point on, his players started trusting each other. Coach Boone advised them, “Hatred and prejudice are built out of fear. Everyone deserves respect and respect builds trust. Trust builds teams.”
Coach Boone realized that his team was coming together when he saw African-American players dancing on the bus to country and western music.
They returned to Alexandria as a football team and they won the Virginia state championship.
“I must admit that it makes me proud that the movie continues to be a motivational force for the military and almost every team that has seen it,” Coach Boone added.
Coach Boone refers to his T.C. Williams High School team as the first example of diversity. He said, “In order to succeed, we had to celebrate our differences. So many of those young men went on to enjoy very successful lives and I am so proud of them.”
The 77-year old coach concluded by telling the Towson University student-athletes and coaches that everyone has to deal with adversity and that he had his adversity in 1971.
‘The world is waiting for your talents,” he added. “Just like Doc Minnegan taught others here at Towson, the challenge is for you to overcome adversity and excel.”