Boone, the real-life inspiration behind “Remember the Titans,” spoke to those gathered Thursday night in Cleveland State Community College’s L. Quentin Lane Gymnasium.
After a clip from “Remember the Titans” regarding Boone leading his students to a Civil War soldiers’ cemetery in Gettysburg, Pa., to teach them of unity and understanding, the real coach Boone took the stage to a standing ovation.
“If I want to be successful here tonight, I better try to be as wise as Solomon, as prophetic as Isaiah, and, if you don’t mind ladies and gentlemen, I’ll try to be as funny as Bernie Mac,” he said.
He began his address thanking those in attendance and telling everyone gathered how honored he was to be a part of this Multicultural Fair.
Boone also congratulated all the students in the crowd for working hard on bettering their life and fighting to get their degree.
“I just want you to know that success is only a word that comes in front of hard work,” he offered those gathered.
In 1971 Alexandria, Va., made the decision to totally integrate its school system, combining three local high schools into one.
The resulting football team was put under the leadership of Boone, who led the team to a state championship and a second place ranking in the national polls.
“These were times when people felt they had a reason to wake up every day about something. These were the times that created the story ‘Remember the Titans,’” he said.
From his team, players went on to be professors, military leaders and high-ranking public officials. All that success coming on the back of so much controversy.
According to Boone, he was spit on, harassed and threatened, all because of the color of his skin, and what he was being paid to do at T.C. Williams High School.
“I guess many of you young people find it very difficult to believe, that in the greatest country in the world just some 38 years ago ... that blacks and whites in America lived in totally separate worlds,” he said.
When Boone’s team met for the first time, not only did his students segregate themselves from each other, but his assistant coaches did as well.
So, he took his team to Gettysburg, Pa., to conduct camp, and grow together as a team.
During the camp Boone did all he could to foster camaraderie and understanding between his team and coaching staff. However, he still experienced a lot of resistance to the two races working together as one team.
So, the real-life inspiration for the impactful nighttime jog to the Gettysburg Cemetery scene in the movie took place.
“No, you saw a clip a few minutes ago that I ran them through a swamp at 3 o’clock in the morning. 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. I took them on a bus at 9 o’clock at night,” he joked.
The boys, still to this day, tell Boone that was one of the most inspiring days of their life.
From that point on the team ate, joked and talked to one another, and when they came back into Alexandria that acceptance and understanding started to slowly trickle through the community.
After the Gettysburg camp President Richard Nixon sent an aid, Dr. Brown, to see this integrated football team that was beginning to catch national attention.
According to Boone, Dr. Brown reported to the president that the team was a showcase not only for their school or the state but for the entire nation.
“The entire world began to watch these young men. ... When you do things right, the world will watch you,” he explained.
Boone also told the crowd that Washington took a pay cut because he wanted to tell this story so badly, and no one really expected the amazing response the movie has received. He told the crowd that to date, “Remember the Titans” has grossed $388 million in the United States alone.
He attributes the movie’s success to showing people how to fight for what they believe in and speak out about social injustices that need changing.
“How you think and act in the future will make a difference. So, ask yourself, ‘Where will I go from here?’ I challenge you young people to do like the Titans and embrace diversity and when you do there isn’t anything that can stand in your way,” he concluded.