Herman Boone, Coach Portrayed in ‘Remember the Titans,’ Dies at 84
Herman Boone, who led a racially integrated high school football team in Virginia to a state championship in his first season as head coach and was later portrayed by Denzel Washington in the Disney movie “Remember the Titans,” died on Wednesday at his home in Alexandria, Va. He was 84.
The cause was lung cancer, according to Anthony Henderson, a son-in-law.
In 1971, Alexandria’s three public high schools were merged into T.C. Williams High School. Mr. Boone was hired by the Alexandria school board as the head coach for the football team, the Titans.
“He handled that coaching year with dignity,” said Wayne Sanders, 64, who was a running back on the school’s junior varsity team that year.
“He was the right man for that year because of his coaching style,” he said, adding that Mr. Boone coached with discipline, respect and leadership.
His leadership during his first year as head coach inspired the Disney movie “Remember the Titans,” which was released in September 2000.
“If ‘Remember the Titans’ is corny, it’s unabashedly, even generously so,” wrote the New York Times film critic A.O. Scott, who noted Mr. Washington’s “strong, complex enough” presence.
Herman Boone was born on Oct. 28, 1935, in Rocky Mount, N.C., about 60 miles east of Raleigh.
After graduating from North Carolina Central University, where he received both a bachelor’s degree in physical education and a master’s degree in physical education, Mr. Boone became a coach at a high school in Blackstone, Va., Mr. Henderson said.
In 1961, Mr. Boone moved to Williamston, N.C., and became a coach at E.J. Hayes High School. In 1969, the Williamston school board told Mr. Boone that the town was “not ready for a black head coach,” according to the ’71 Original Titans Foundation, so Mr. Boone resigned.
That year, Mr. Boone became an assistant coach at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va.
In 1971, when the Alexandria schools merged, the school board appointed Mr. Boone head coach. He was chosen over Bill Yoast, a white coach who had more experience, Mr. Henderson said. Mr. Boone and Mr. Yoast worked together to lead the football team to its first state championship that year.
Mr. Yoast died in May at 94.
After the schools were combined, people who wouldn’t ordinarily interact came together for games and school events, Mr. Sanders said.
“They had to deal with individuals that they weren’t accustomed to playing or associating with on a daily basis,” he said.
And while race was undoubtedly a factor during that first year, Mr. Sanders said that the team did not focus on it once they got to know one another.
“The race issue was more for the adults than the students,” said Mr. Sanders, whom Mr. Boone asked to play during the 1971 championship game even though he was on the junior varsity team.
“Race wasn’t an issue with him,” Mr. Sanders said. “It was for everyone else — he didn’t care.”
“He was more interested in, did you want to play, than the color of your skin,” he added.
The T.C. Williams Titans have won the state championship in 1971, 1984 and 1987.
Mr. Boone stopped coaching football in 1979, according to Aly Khan Johnson, 69, who was an assistant coach for Mr. Boone then. Mr. Boone continued to teach physical education at the school and later coached golf for several years, Mr. Johnson said.
Mr. Boone’s wife of 57 years, Carol Boone, died in March at the age of 83, Mr. Henderson said.
Mr. Boone’s survivors include his daughters Sharon Henderson and Monica Merritt, as well as 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Another daughter, Donna Dulany, died in November 2014, Mr. Henderson said.
Ms. Henderson said she did not watch “Remember the Titans” often.
“It was very surreal,” Ms. Henderson said. “It helped us to appreciate the things our father was doing while he was at work.”
Mihir Zaveri contributed reporting.