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Herman Boone, football coach played by Denzel Washington in 'Remember the Titans,' dies

Virginia football coach played by Denzel Washington in 'Remember the Titans' dies at 84. (Photos: T.C. Williams H.S. Football Boosters/Walt Disney Pictures)
Virginia football coach played by Denzel Washington in 'Remember the Titans' dies at 84. (Photos: T.C. Williams H.S. Football Boosters/Walt Disney Pictures)
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Herman Boone, the legendary T.C. Williams High School football coach portrayed by Denzel Washington in "Remember the Titans" has died. Alexandria City Public Schools said he passed away on Wednesday morning, surrounded by his family and friends. Boone was 84 years old.

A memorial service for Boone will be held at the high school (3330 King Street) at 1 p.m. on Saturday, December 28. There will be a public viewing at the Lee Center (1108 Jefferson Street) on December 27 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Boone was one of the coaches of the Alexandria school's 1971 state championship-winning football team, the integrated group of players immortalized by the Disney movie.

"What he and his fellow coaches and players did in 1971 was extremely important for our community. The times dictated pulling together, and they, and the team, helped to do that," said John Porter, who served as principal of T.C. Williams High School for more than two decades.

Porter worked with Boone for years and considered him both a colleague and a friend.

"He was a motivator. He knew his x's and o's in football, he knew sports, he knew teaching - but he could also relate to kids. Kids respected him and he respected them," said Porter. "I think his biggest skill was his ability to motivate kids, athletes and others, to perform at their highest level."

According to Alexandria City Public Schools, Coach Boone "took the position at T.C. Williams when he was told that the town of Williamston in North Carolina was not ready for a black head coach."

Bill Yoast, already known as a legendary coach at the all-white Francis C. Hammond High School, was the defensive coach for the team.

The two "put aside personal pride and pulled together to solidify a diverse coaching staff and team into the most successful team in the state in 1971," the school system says. The team won the state championship that year.

"It was not easy," Boone told ACPS earlier this year, after Yoast died. "People were not accepting integration. But you could see it in Bill Yoast. You can’t fake believing. You can lie about things, but you cannot fake your beliefs. Bill was not going to allow racial differences to exist in this city. He and I found a way to talk to each other and trust each other.”

In announcing Boone's death on social media, the school system said it "will never forget his contribution to bringing our city together post-segregation".

Porter agreed, saying that Boone helped transform race relations in Alexandria.

"They made a major difference," he said. "It was one of the few times in my lifetime that I remember worrying about the future of our country, not that I didn't think we were going in the right direction, just whether we could withstand the turmoil. "

Porter also provided some insight about what Boone thought about the film for which he served as inspiration.

"Oh he had a blast with the film. He thought he was better looking than Denzel Washington, he used to say that all the time - of course kidding," said Porter. "The story I often tell is because he and other staff members played practical jokes on each other, there would be actual calls and messages for Herman that Disney or someone wanted to talk to him, this was pre-movie, they wanted to talk to him about the movie. And Herman wouldn't return the calls, he thought someone was trying to pull a practical joke on him!"

ABC7 also spoke to retired Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook, who played for Boone on T.C. Williams' championship team in 1971.

"He influenced my life greatly," said Cook. "When you have a time of so much turmoil, the city needed a rallying point, and I think that's what coach and his leadership and the team did for the city. What it did was offer an opportunity to reach across the aisle, reach across race, reach across division, and say hey, this can really work."

This year marked the 65th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which required school districts to integrate. Alexandria’s efforts to integrate were delayed for five years, according to ACPS, by the Commonwealth's "Massive Resistance" campaign.

Alexandria City Public Schools aid that Boone's death comes just weeks after he made a guest appearance at the district's annual ACPS Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony. On that night, he was honored as a star and former hall of fame inductee.

That's also the last time Porter saw Boone.

"We got to talk for a few minutes, and I could tell he was not doing well," said Porter. "He would want us to remember him and I think remember the role that he played in leading this community into a new place."

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ACPS encouraged people to share their stories and memories of Boone, as the community remembers a titan and now mourns him as well.

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