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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Several of T.C. Williams’ football players were angered when Boone arrived because not only did Boone appear out of the blue, but he also replaced their beloved coach, Bill Yoast, demoting him to an assistant.
Yoast wasn’t too pleased either. He admitted to The Washington Post that it took time for him to get used to the idea, and his initial reluctance resulted in several arguments. “We had our discussions. And sometimes they got a little, ahem, vociferous,” he confessed.
The alienated football team headed out to training camp in Gettysburg, and the experience changed their lives forever. Boone forced each player to bunk with “the opposite color,” making it possible for them to get to know each other.
Despite the initial negativity and bitterness, the boys eventually developed a sense of respect for each other and began to see eye to eye. They returned from Gettysburg a brand-new team. Unified, calm, and ready to face the challenges ahead.
When the team came back from camp, they brought a whole new air to Alexandria. An air of acceptance, open-mindedness, and respect. Race was no longer an issue for the teammates. Surprisingly, it was the adults around them who still struggled to accept the situation.
Boone’s team suffered racism from opposing coaches and biased referees. None of the teams in the area understood how black and white players could get along. But for Boone and Yoast, their prejudices were all the more reason to work together and prove them wrong.
Boone saw athletics as “one of the few activities that seem to transcend narrow-minded thinking,” he told The Oklahoman. He believed that with the help of sports, humanity could develop values like friendship, respect, trust, and discipline. “There’s something about a field, a team, that reflects to one heartbeat,” he said.
Football allows people to look into the eyes of the ones they fear and learn more about them. Former player Terry Bradshaw once told Boone that “when he found he could accept the soul of a person rather than reject someone because of what he looked like, he became a man.”
Boone was a tough coach who believed discipline was key. His standards were high, and he had zero tolerance for rule-bending players. To encourage the boys to arrive on time, he purposely set deadlines at 2:29 instead of 2:30, and 4:59 instead of 5:00.
One of Boone’s former players, quarterback Kenny White, revealed that he was left stranded, gear in hand, after being only one minute late to the bus. “They just left me. I was the starting quarterback, and they just left me. One of the biggest things he taught me was to be on time and be responsible,” he told ACPS Express.
When Boone noticed that the boys’ locker-room chemistry shifted from hostile silence to crafty jokes and stupid nicknames, he knew they were on the right track. Back then he noted, “white kids didn’t crack on black kids, and black kids would rather not crack on white kids,” he told The Washington Post.
“But when we went in the locker room and saw white kids cracking on black kids and vice-versa, when they started nicknaming each other–when you nickname somebody, it’s out of friendship–we knew that we had the beginnings of a team that was trying to overcome their fears,” he explained.
All the hype surrounding Boone’s arrival made his first days on the job uncomfortable. Some players despised him, but others praised him, referring to their new coach as a “black Moses that will lead us into the water.” Either way, the remarks made Boone uneasy.
He told his players, “I’m not a black coach, I’m a coach who was born black. If you’re going to play for me, you’re going to play based on talent and character.” Boone treated all his players accordingly and never favored one over the other because of their skin color.
Boone’s team players took their friendships outside of the football team, and into each other’s homes. Black kids were invited to pool parties in relatively white neighborhoods, and white kids hung out in areas they never imagined they would find themselves in.
Even the team’s parents began to behave differently. “I heard about parents throwing away silverware the black kids had used, and later those same parents talk about how proud they are of those kids. It showed how people could change,” Boone told The Washington Post.
When Boone was approached by Hollywood screenwriter, Gregory Allen Howard, he wasn’t sure what to make of his offer. Someone wanted to write a movie about him? It seemed too weird to fathom. He thought it was Howard’s way of laughing at his expense.
The idea of Howard’s proposal being a joke wasn’t that farfetched. He had just witnessed some of his colleagues pull a humorless prank on one of his fellow teachers at the school. So, initially, he stood Howard up. He didn’t want to be the next victim.
Yoast was excited about Remember the Titans, but he had his concerns. His biggest concern was how the film would portray his relationship with Boone. He believed producers would exaggerate the tension and turn him into a “racist and a cracker,” he admitted to The Washington Post.
But things turned out well in the film. The tension between Boone and Yoast existed, but it wasn’t about color. It was about their distinct coaching styles and the different opinions they had about how to treat the players.
In the beginning, no one wanted to produce Howard’s idea. He traveled all over L.A. to pitch his idea to several filmmakers but received rejection after rejection after rejection. He was about to give up until one song on the radio changed his mind.
“I got my burning bush when I turned on the radio and the [Titans’] theme song was playing — ‘Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye’” Howard told The New York Post. He saw it as a sign and began writing the script shortly after. When filmmaker Jerry Bruckheimer read it, he was instantly sold.
Denzel Washington was contacted by Bruckheimer’s people, and was sent a copy of the film’s script. He wasn’t too sure of it at first because he had just wrapped up filming a different sports movie, The Hurricane.
So, Washington gave the script to his wife and waited for her take on it. She loved the story and told him he had to do it. He never regretted the decision. Washington proudly told Entertainment Weekly, “I don’t think it’s a football movie. I think it’s a movie about the potential of the human spirit.”
Denzel Washington felt that meeting Boone was like “going over to your uncle’s house.” The actor told The Washington Post that Boone’s strong personality, witty humor, and powerful character officially convinced him to take the role.
Washington dished that Boone was over the moon with the film. The former coach couldn’t believe someone was actually working on bringing the Titans’ story to the silver screen. Despite being paid way less than his previous works, Washington knew he had to do it.
While the movie centers around a football team and their tumultuous season, Remember the Titans is clearly about more than that. According to Boone, it’s about “how some exceptional young men overcame their fear of the unknown, which is what we now call diversity.”
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, America was filled with ridiculous rumors and myths about both black and white people. And when the boys lived together in the Gettysburg College training camp, they were able to see from up close how the other person lived and were able to dispel the myths they grew up on.
We hate to be the ones to break it to you, but A LOT of events from Remember the Titans were fake. Let’s start with what’s real. Herman Boone and Bill Yoast really did coach a diverse group of black and white boys at a school where racial tension was up the roof.
The Titans really won the championship in 1971, bringing immense pride and joy to Alexandria. And the boys really did go to the Gettysburg camp, an experience that helped them bond and bridge any gaps they had before.
In the film, before heading out to the Gettysburg camp, the boys pile onto two separate buses in a very obvious manner. The white boys with their white friends, and the black boys with their black friends. Coach Boone wasn’t having it, and he purposely forced them to mix up and switch places. But was it like that in real life?
The scene isn’t made up, and that’s actually how Boone handled things that day. Boone told ESPN he “forced [his players] on each other.” He wanted to make sure they rid themselves of their regular thought patterns and behaviors.
Boone laughed and informed viewers at the film’s premiere, “No, sir. I might be crazy, but I’m not stupid. I’m not going to run some parent’s child through no swamp at 3 o’clock in the morning.” They ran in the mornings and evenings, but not at such a crazy hour.
And the inspirational speech at the cemetery? That was also the producers’ way of stretching the truth to get viewers engaged. But Boone did pump the team up with motivational speeches. Just not ones in front of graveyards.
From shooting menacing glances at each other on the bus to shooting hoops in each other’s neighborhoods, Bertier and Campbell’s relationship in the film was a pleasure to watch. But was it actually like that in real life?
Yes and no. The boys became friends but calling them “best friends” might have been a stretch. They weren’t any closer than other Titan members were. But in any case, we’re glad producers dramatized Bertier and Campbell’s friendship a little bit.
Beautiful, long-haired Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass joined the team mid-film and created a lot of noise after he smooched Bertier on the lips in the locker room. But many viewers wondered if this Californian boy’s romantic gesture even happened.
Sadly, no. This was another white lie the filmmakers added to spark some interest. While Ronnie Bass was an actual player, and his nickname was really “Sunshine,” he (unfortunately…sigh) never flirtatiously told Bertier “You know what I want.”
There’s nothing like a quick, witty comeback. And when Boone tossed a banana to a rival coach after the Titans won the game, it was the perfect response to the opposing coach’s “monkey” insult. But many fans wondered if that moment really happened.
Herman Boone was a really feisty guy, so the banana toss wasn’t too far-fetched. But, in truth, no. The scene was totally fabricated. Not only the banana, but also the opposing coach. He was a made-up character.
Things were heated in Alexandria. But not to the point where protestors stood outside with signs and yelled at Herman Boone as he entered the building. While it’s true that many couldn’t stand the fact that the football team was integrated, they didn’t wait outside the school with insulting signs.
By the time Boone had arrived to coach the team (in 1971), T.C. Williams High School had already been integrated for several years. So even though people still had problems with integration, they were a minority by the time Boone became the school’s coach.
Coach Yoast’s daughter, Sheryl, appears in the film as the world’s biggest football fan. She accompanies the team to camp, to their games, and screams her head off on the bleachers whenever things go wrong on the field. But was it like that in real life?
Bill Yoast admitted that while she came along with him to all his games, she wasn’t that invested in the team like the film portrayed her to be. So maybe Sheryl wasn’t the biggest football fanatic. But she was undoubtedly her dad’s biggest fan.
An emotional scene in the film shows Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass convince his team members to enter a bar with him. His black teammates are reluctant because they’re sure they’ll get kicked out the second they enter. Which sadly, is exactly what happens.
The boys are mercilessly shooed away from the bar, and they’re left feeling humiliated and down. Poor Sunshine had no idea things were that bad in Virginia. In truth, this scene never happened. Yes, racial tensions existed, but this particular moment was made up.
Yes. Someone threw an object through Boone’s window one evening and shattered it to pieces. But it wasn’t a brick. It was actually way worse. Because the film was produced by Disney (a family-friendly company), the filmmakers had to soften the blow.
In reality, Boone’s house was trashed with a toilet commode. The incident still haunted Boone long after it occurred. He recalled, “I could never understand how anybody could feel so bad about another human being as to throw a toilet commode through a window.”
So now that we know that the brick was actually a toilet commode that could have easily killed one of his family members, Boone’s reaction in the film seems quite reasonable. The movie shows him charging his gun and storming out the front door.
But in reality, Boone didn’t pick up his rifle. And that was because he didn’t own one. He was surely frightened and wanted to confront his attackers, yet he didn’t have the means to do so. But filmmakers wanted to add some drama, and they succeeded.
In the film, after Coach Yoast walks up to Petey and gives him an encouraging small talk, he decides to switch him and another player, Alan. The switch was controversial, and the film shows Alan’s dad losing his mind in the crowd, screaming, “don’t you take out my son.”
Indeed, the switch happened in real life. But it wasn’t midgame. It happened in between games. And Alan’s dad didn’t stand up like he did in the movie, although he did storm into Boone’s office later on to complain.
At the start of the film, Geryr Bertier is seen dating a blonde, popular girl named Emma Hoyt. But by the end of it – and after Bertier befriends Julius Campbell – Emma dumps him. But how accurate was this relationship? Was Bertier really tossed aside by his girl after befriending a black guy on the team?
The answer is no. Emma Hoyt is a fictional character the movie made up to highlight the negative belief systems that existed at the time. In real life, Bertier was extremely focused on football and had little time to develop a romantic relationship.
Tragically, yes. Gerry Bertier, the Titans’ superstar captain was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Bertier was an incredible player, and while he was a star in the movie, he was an even bigger star in real life. He was considered one of the most skilled players in the country.
In the movie, Bertier gets hit by a truck a little before the championship game. But reality played out a bit differently. In real life, Bertier lost control of his mom’s car, a little AFTER the final game. But while some details were tweaked for dramatization, the sad paralysis part was real.
Following his accident, Bertier became an inspirational public speaker and a record-setting Paralympics competitor. He dedicated himself to Wheelchair track and field and shot hoops in the Wheelchair basketball league. But a horrible car crash in 1981 put an end to his life.
On March 20, he was killed in an accident on his way back from a business trip. He collided with a car whose driver was under the influence. The driver was charged with manslaughter and drunk driving. Bertier was only 27 when he died.
In the film, Sheryl Yoast isn’t Boone’s biggest fan at first. From a 10-year old’s perspective, Boone is this random bully who comes out of nowhere and steals her dad’s job. But as the movie progresses, her opinion changes and she begins to grow close to him and his family.
Boone has a daughter around Sheryl’s age, and although she is the complete opposite of tomboy Sheryl, the two eventually grow on each other and become friends. But in real life, that bond never happened. As a matter of fact, Sheryl never visited his home or spent time with any of his children.
The answer is no. But not because he wasn’t deserving or anything similar to what the film tried to portray. There was another reason Yoast never landed his name in the prestigious hall. And the reason: there was no Hall of Fame in Virginia High at the time.
But producers wanted a bit more pizzaz and spice, so they made it look like coach Yoast lost the opportunity of his life when he gave up his role as head coach and became an assistant. We have to admit that all these little white lies make the film compelling, so we don’t blame producers for making stuff up.
After the 1971 legendary season, Bill Yoast remained as Boone’s assistant coach for four more seasons. He remained in the school for much longer, coaching track and teaching golf. In 1996, he left Virginia High and officially retired.
On May 23, 2019, the legendary coach passed away at the age of 94. The cause was never given, but we can assume it was due to old age. He was living at the Aarondale Retirement and Assisted Living Community in Virginia when he died.
On December 18, 2019, Herman Boone, aged 84, passed away after a tough battle with lung cancer. Relatives, friends, and the school district all mourned the legendary coach’s passing. The school announced it “will never forget his contribution to bringing our city together post-segregation.”
Boone left behind two daughters and a handful of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His wife of 57 years, Carol Boone, passed away shortly after in March 2020. Sadly, a few years before the couple’s passing, they experienced a life-shattering event when their daughter, Donna Dulany, died in 2014.
Donald Faison (Petey Jones) told US Weekly that the thing that surprised the boys the most was training camp. Despite having stunt doubles, the cast was forced to train their butts off. “Some of us got injured really bad. We couldn’t understand why we were working so hard,” he revealed.
But eventually, the actors bonded in camp, just like their characters in the film. “It made us very much like a team. We didn’t know each other before we started the camp. To go through all that brought us together and helped us out.”
Director Boaz Yakin admitted that working on a movie that dealt with a touchy subject like racism while making it Disney-style PG was incredibly tough. “I went into it quite reluctantly and with a great degree of anxiety,” Yakin told Yahoo Entertainment.
But after reading the script and “finding the emotion in the story,” Yakin agreed to do it. Overall, he feels like the crew managed to create a movie suitable for the whole family, but without downplaying the severity of the time’s social problems.
Herman Boone’s daughter, Monica, described her experience watching the film as surreal. Having Denzel Washington play her dad and seeing the audience’s reactions to the film turned her life upside down. She was now living in a strange yet incredible reality.
She told Hometown Life that the film helped her appreciate her father’s hard work and dedication. And when asked what the most valuable lesson her dad had taught her was, she said “Of all the gems my father left me with — including the value of humility, integrity, and giving back — I think that respect was the most important.”
In 1979, Herman Boone stopped coaching. He was fired after allegations of abuse came from several of his players and assistant coaches. While Boone continued to teach physical education at the school, he never went back to coaching.
Boone was an extremely harsh coach. And while the film, Remember the Titans, glamorizes his coaching style, many players felt that in reality, he was not only tough, but crazy. Boone never spoke much about his layoff, but former players on his team did.
Greg Paspatis was a kicker on Boone’s 1977 team. And shortly after Remember the Titans came out in 2000, he broke his silence. He hated how Hollywood made Boone seem like this holier than thou coach whose tough love was the best thing that ever happened in Alexandria.
Paspatis told journalists that Boone was indeed an egalitarian because “he treated everybody horribly, no matter what race.” If you’re a fan of the film, this might not be easy to admit, but Boone’s firing in 1979 might have been justified.