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High school coach portrayed in ‘Remember the Titans’ dies

Obituaries

Free Press wire report | 12/27/2019, 6 a.m.
With his health declining, Herman Boone was still mapping out football strategy as if he were about to walk the ...
Coach Boone

ALEXANDRIA

With his health declining, Herman Boone was still mapping out football strategy as if he were about to walk the sidelines one more time.

“His daughter said the other night he asked for a clipboard. He started drawing plays,” said Aly Khan Johnson, an assistant on Mr. Boone’s staff in 1972.

Mr. Boone, the Virginia high school football coach who inspired the movie “Remember the Titans,” died Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, at his home in Alexandria after battling cancer. He was 84.

Mr. Boone guided T.C. Williams High School to a state championship while navigating the early days of desegregation. In the hit movie, he was portrayed by actor Denzel Washington.

Mr. Johnson said he visited the coach regularly and had planned to see him last week when he learned of his death.

He recalled Mr. Boone as being one of the influential coaches in his career and a person after whom he tried to model his own style. Their association went back to the 1960s when Mr. Boone coached at a black high school in Williamston, N.C., and Mr. Johnson lived several doors down. He said they would sometimes run plays that Mr. Boone had drawn up.

“What I picked up from Coach Boone all those years was his dedication to young people, being organized and being persistent in doing what you’re doing, planning ahead,” Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Johnson said he lived with Mr. Boone for a month after he graduated from college and recalls how the two would analyze the team.

“I’d watch him take the projector out, point it at the bathroom wall, review plays and so forth, until late at night,” he said. “You saw that dedication.”

A native of Rocky Mount, N.C., Mr. Boone led undefeated Williams High School to the state championship in 1971. His team and its initial success also was recognized as a galvanizing factor in helping bring the city through school consolidation.

Much of “Remember the Titans” covers the team’s uphill battle to win the state championship over 15 all-white teams. They had to overcome vindictive opponents, racist coaches and crooked referees.

“When I got there, you saw kids work together, hang out together,” Mr. Johnson said. “It was a brotherhood that you would see. As you know, athletics does something for a community, and it happened at the right time for that community.”

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