(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) Herman Boone, the T.C. Williams High School football head coach for the school’s 1971 state championship-winning team, has died at 84 years old.
Boone was famously memorialized in the 2000 biographical film Remember the Titans, where he was played by Denzel Washington. The film dramatizes the Titans’ famous 13-0 season after Alexandria’s high schools were integrated.
In 2016, Boone was inducted into Alexandria’s Living Legends group not only for his coaching, but for fighting to get 50 scholarships for the team’s African American athletes, according to the group’s biographical page.
“Boone held clinics to help players with their homework, keeping them eligible to play and helping them get into college,” the Living Legends group said in its biography. “Boone took an active interest in the lives of players and kept in touch with former players, such as [then] Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook.”
Boone also volunteered with civil rights organizations like the NAACP and the Urban League of Northern Virginia, engaging in “kitchen table” discussions with local civil rights leaders. His death comes just months after the death of the team’s defensive coach Bill Yoast, who was also featured prominently in the film.
A long-time local resident, Boone was married and a father of three daughters.
Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson hailed Boone as “an irreplaceable part of our history and integral in building the community we enjoy today.”
Sad to hear of the loss of an Alexandria legend and pioneer.
Coach Boone was an irreplaceable part of our history and integral in building the community we enjoy today.
RIP, Coach Boone https://t.co/ZhJPqdJk4I
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) December 18, 2019
More from an Alexandria City Public Schools press release, below:
Boone, whose story is immortalized in the Disney movie Remember the Titans about the 1971 integration of Alexandria’s high schools, died just weeks after making a guest appearance at the annual ACPS Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony where he was welcomed as a star and former inductee.
Boone, who came to Alexandria from North Carolina as T.C.’s first African American head coach, had to put politics aside to work with Bill Yoast, the equally legendary coach at the all-white Francis C. Hammond High School who had been hired as defensive coach at T.C. Williams High School. The two pulled together to solidify a diverse group of students into the most successful football team in the state that year.
More important than the football games, Yoast and Boone’s relationship brought together the formerly-divided city of Alexandria to support their winning integrated school team.
“We thought it was a joke, but it ended up to be better for Alexandria than Brown vs. Board. We were as different as night and day. But he and I found a way to talk to each other and trust each other. In the end, he was the best friend I ever had,” Coach Herman Boone told ACPS in May.
The two coaches both died this year, seven months apart.
Coach Boone will be remembered as a disciplined individual whose presence demanded attention.
“He didn’t need to say anything. He just looked at you and that look said it all. There was no denial in what he was saying. He meant what he said and he said what he meant,” said Wayne Sanders, a running back for the ’71 Titans who played under Boone.
“For impressionable teenagers, this meant that Boone was a force not to be ignored. As the head coach, physical education and the drivers ed teacher, he gave young men exactly what they needed to know at that age. He was there to teach, to lead, to guide and prepare young men to go out into the world and do great things,” Sanders added.
The Titans’ 1973 Starting quarterback Kenny White remembers that Boone related everything in football to life.
White and the rest of the team had been told to be at the buses by 4:59 p.m. to leave for a game against Herndon. While the rest of the team sat on the buses, they saw White running to get his gear. Boone asked Coach Dennis Heinz what the time was. It was 4:59 p.m. White recalls running past the buses and then hearing the engines crank.
“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. If it weren’t for the athletic director who drove past and saw me standing on the side of the road with my gear, I wouldn’t have made the game,” said White.
Retired Chief of Police for the City of Alexandria and Titan football team captain, Earl Cook, learned the hard way one rainy day about skipping class before heading back to school to attend football practice.
“I thought he was none the wiser. He said nothing during practice but afterward, he just stood there with Assistant Coach Dennis Shaw, hands on his hips.”
“You owe me 24 laps around that track,” Boone said. While Cook ran the track in his drenched uniform, Coach Shaw sat with his umbrella on the bleachers to count every single lap.
Coach Boone will be remembered by the ’71 team as being “all about business” and as someone who enjoyed being on the water in his boat when he was not on the field or at the high school. He was the father of three. His wife died in April this year. He is survived by two daughters.
We are truly saddened to hear of the death of Coach Herman Boone today. ACPS & the @TCWTitans community will never forget his contribution to bringing our city together post-segregation. We encourage you to share your stories and memories of him with us. #RememberTheTitans pic.twitter.com/JZcsVVv0TT
— Alexandria City Public Schools (@ACPSk12) December 18, 2019