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Man who coached celebrated Titans' team gives motivational speeches here

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By Jesef Williams

KERSHAW – Denzel Washington didn’t stroll in the auditorium at Andrew Jackson High School on May 21, but some students may have thought they got the next best thing.

Retired football coach Herman Boone – who guided the much-celebrated T.C. Williams High School football team to a Virginia state title years ago – visited AJHS.

He also visited Lancaster High School, giving motivational speeches to the students at each school.

He was also the keynote speaker at the district’s Honor Beyond the Field banquet May 21.

“I thought he was amazing and very inspirational,” AJHS 12th-grader Joanna Croxton said.

Boone gained notoriety when he accepted the head football coach position at T.C. Williams High in Alexandria, Va., in 1971. The city had just integrated its school system – merging the high schools into one.

Despite pressure and less than lukewarm support – even from parents – Boone united the players and led them to the Virginia AAA state football championship.

The football team’s integration and their success were the subject of the Walt Disney movie “Remember the Titans.”

Denzel Washington, a two-time Academy award winner, played Boone in the film.

“These young men found a way to put their differences aside and respect each other’s culture,” Boone said about the team.“They found a way to get along. They became friends.”

Boone told students they are each special, though they must remember to have good character as they move through life.

Good manners, respect and dignity are key, he said.

Ron Bass, known as “Sunshine,” also spoke during Boone’s presentation at AJHS.

Bass was Boone’s starting quarterback on the Titans’ 1971 championship team.

He recalled the high level of racial tension among teammates at first. But the players soon learned how to come together as one.

Some of the players have since named their children and grandchildren after teammates, he said.  

AJHS 10th-grader Stephen Few said “Remember the Titans” is one of his favorite movies. He was thrilled to meet Boone.

“He’s taught me not to judge people before you’re actually able to know them personally,” Few said. “If everyone was like him (Boone), the world would be a better place.”

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com  or at (803) 283-1152