“How blacks and whites, forced to play together on a football team, brought a city together.”

Herman Boone and Bill Yoast in 1996.

Matt Schudel of the Washington Post wrote a good obit on Herman Boone, described as “a trailblazing football coach who led Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High School to a Virginia state championship in 1971 and was later portrayed by Denzel Washington in the Hollywood film Remember the Titans.”

Not mentioned in the Post obit is the story, by Tim Warren, that inspired the movie. It was published in 1996, 25 years after the championship season, as part of a Washingtonian cover section about race relations in Washington. Warren’s story was titled “That Championship Season: At T.C. Williams high, black and whites were forced to play with one another on a football team. Here’s how they came together and brought a city together.”

From Tim Warren’s 1996 story:

This fall, the members of the T.C. Williams football team on of 1971 will come back to Alexandria for a reunion weekend. There will be much drinking, eating, and swapping of tales. “It’s seeing a lot of people you have special feelings about,” says Earl Cook, the gifted defensive back who now is an assistant police chief in Alexandria.

As reunions go, this one will be special. The 1971 team, made up of players from three city high schools that were consolidated into one, was extraordinary. . . .It’s players came out of a city that was divided by race. Alexandria was trying to change things by throwing its high school students into a situation that most did not understand or like. . . .

The 1971 T.C. Williams football team was expected to provide an example of how to get along for a city that could not. Like other youngsters in public school systems, the kids were atoning for the sins of those who came before them.

“We were the ambassadors,” says Walter Bowling, a wide receiver looking back 25 years. “We were the ones who would be blamed if there was a fight, a racial incident at the school.”

The parents of the football players, of different races and and from different parts of the city, mostly did not talk or deal with one another. But these 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds had to. . . .

No one was more aware of the city’s fragility that Herman Boone, coach of the T.C. Williams team. Boone, then 35, has grown up in the segregated town of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He was slapped at age eight by an elderly white man offended that young Herman had taken a drink from a “whites only” water fountain. He’d been hit in the head by a Ku Klux Klan member while taking part in a demonstration in nearby Durham in 1957, and he marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy.

Playing football in North Carolina, Herman never had a white teammate or faced a white opponent. As coach of all-black football teams in Southern Virginia and North Carolina, he had won four state championships before coming to Alexandria.

As Boone took over the new T.C. Williams team in 1971, he was at the center of controversy. Many whites felt that Boone’s race was the reason he had been selected over Bill Yoast, then Hammond’s coach. Yoast had more seniority in the school system and more experience as a head coach. . . .When Boone approached Yost about the job of defensive coordinator with broad responsibilities, Yoast accepted. They quickly found that despite their differences, they liked each other. . . .Despite their awkward situation they developed a good working relationship. “When we saw how the coaches got along, says former player Cook, “it set the tone for the whole team.”

Off the field, the players confronted their differences. The white kids from Hammond high school in the city’s affluent West End got to know the black GW kids who lived several miles away. . . .Players from the racially mixed blue collar neighborhood of Del Ray befriended West End kids they had always written off as snobs. Though race was the primary dividing line, class and neighborhood insularity also had been part of the Alexandria fabric for generations.

Black and white citizens alike generally accepted that had it not been for the success of the football team, the city’s fledgling desegregation plan would have faltered.

For the first few months at T.C Williams that fall, members of the football team, wearing their jerseys, patrolled the halls, serving as monitors and breaking up fights. Football players had come to know and respect each other. The whole school, and the city, could follow their examples. . . .

From Jack: I can’t find an online version of Tim Warren’s beautifully written 5,000 word story on Herman Boone and the 1971 T.C. Williams team, thus this summary. If anyone knows of a digital version of the story, please email me at [email protected] and I’ll add it.



  1. Was this story by any chance in the ice cream cone issue?

  2. The ice cream cone issue (“Can Whites Survive in DC?”) was published in 1976, 20 years earlier. The 1996 cover section on race was more nuanced and constructive.

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