Vaught's Views: Talk by Herman Boone an eye-opener

June 25, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

PHILADELPHIA - If you have never seen the Disney film "Remember the Titans," perhaps the name Herman Boone won't mean anything to you.

However, if you saw the movie, you know the movie detailed the inspirational story of how T.C. Williams High School won the 1971 Virginia state football championship in the first year of integration in Alexandria, Va. Boone not only led the team to a 13-0 finish, but he was also an African-American coach, an even bigger rarity then than now.

Boone was part of a panel of diversity in sports at the Associated Press Sports Editors convention here Thursday. Others on the panel included Tyrone Willingham, who was named the first black head football coach at Notre Dame two years ago; Damon Evans, who will become the first black athletics director in the Southeastern Conference when he takes over at Georgia next month; and Richard Lapchick, a well-known human rights activist and pioneer for racial equality.


While the others certainly had plenty to offer, Boone was the star of the show. He also made it clear that the racial barriers he and his team had to overcome in the movie to win the state title were not exaggerated.

"People of color have been around for a long time and no one ever saw them," said Boone. "They were the guy serving the team, the guy hitching horses."

Boone, now 68 and retired from coaching, said sports helped "people of color" finally get recognition and that racial tolerance is better today than it was 30 or 40 years ago.

"Do we still have a long way to go? Yes, we do," Boone said.

He recalled it was just 34 years ago when he was stopped by the Klu Klux Klan while driving in North Carolina. When he dared talk back, he was pulled from his car and beaten. He still remembers working as a caddy at age 12 when he was asked to dispose of personal hygiene items he found disgusting. He refused and then ran off and hid because he was afraid he would be beaten.

"The next day my mother whipped me because the man came to our house and threatened to put us out because I sassed him," Boone said. "But he changed me from a colored boy to a proud black man. I could talk all day about the racist things that happened to my family, but I also learned that I needed to be educated."

He went on to become the first, and only, child of 12 in his family to graduate from high school. He had to give up playing football and basketball because he had a job filling soft drink machines. His parents also died on the same day in 1956 and two days later his sister died. But he still graduated from college with a 3.83 grade-point average.

"I wanted to be a coach. We all have memories, but I tell kids all the time that dreams have no expiration date," Boone said.

While he says most of the emotional movie that chronicled his team's struggle with integration as well as playing for a black coach was accurate, he says one thing was changed. It was a toilet stool, not a brick, that was thrown through his front room window by someone upset over him coaching the team.

"It was a toilet stool, not a brick, and was designed to tell me exactly who we are as we see it (by whoever threw the toilet stool)," Boone said.

Willingham had similar stories. His high school gymnasium mysteriously blew up the day before his graduation and one year before integration. He remembered being the only African-American on his all-star baseball team and that the team always had to eat carry-out food because no restaurant would serve the other players if he was with them.

"It's difficult for some to know what has taken place and what others have endured," Willingham said.

Evans, only 34, is one of those. He's only read or heard stories about what Boone, Willingham and others endured 30 years ago. He knows the "magnitude" of his new duties just as he understands why it was significant for Mississippi State to name Sylvester Croom as the SEC's first black head football coach.

"I did not go through things as a player (at Georgia) that others did," Evans said. "But what they (Boone and Willingham) did gave me this opportunity."

Boone isn't ready to concede that opportunities like Willingham, Croom and Evans have are ready to become commonplace for African-Americans. He still feels that boosters who make big donations control who major schools hire, or don't hire.

"They don't think we are good for business," Boone said. "We grew up knowing we had to be three times better to finish second (because of our race)."

Hopefully, that's no longer true even though the small number of African-American Division I-A head football coaches and athletics directors would make one wonder, especially when combined with the low number of minorities working in key positions in professional sports - or even high school sports at many places.

But whatever progress has been made is due to what Boone and others did many years ago and his in-person story here Thursday just made me appreciate what I had seen in the movie even more.

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