On my office wall is a team picture of the TC Williams 1971 Virginia State AAA Football Champions signed by most of the members of the team. They were thrust into the highly charged racial environment with forced integration of three rival schools and a hotbed of violence that erupted in Alexandria, Va., after the murder of 19-year-old black man Robin Gibson. This team overcame the racial tension, hate, police harassment, and outright racism to bond together and win a state championship after white coach Bill Yoast, one of the winningest coaches in Virginia High School history and head coach of one of the schools integrated into TC Williams, was passed over for Hermon Boone, a black assistant coach.
Boone and Yoast had to work through their own biases to lead the troubled team that was split along racial lines. At Boone’s leadership, Yoast and he overcame their differences and brought the team into racial unity that was so strong that they won the state championship. In 2016, I had the honor to interview Boone, Yoast, and many of the players of that 1971 team in conjunction with a friend of mine, Billy Zagger, who spearheaded a film project telling the story of just how these men went about resolving their racial divide, and even more importantly formed bonds that lasted a lifetime. Football brought coaches and players who were unlikely to ever care for one another together for something great.
The movie, “Remember the Titans,” took some license in retelling the story of these remarkable men, but showed how a diverse and unlikely group of individuals overcame deep rooted societal differences to become successful on the field, AND off the field. Coach Boone told us that he preached to his players that they may not like each other, but they would respect each other. He and Coach Yoast not only became best friends by iron sharpening iron during the season, but also demonstrated to those they were coaching that hate was not an option when excellence was the preeminent goal. It was fascinating to hear these men and their former players tell their story of learning to love one another from their own personal perspectives.
The TC Williams locker room was full of issues. The players and the coaches worked them out and came to a common ground of understanding and genuine love for those who don’t look like them. America needs a locker room. It needs to be devoid of the politics that is so caustic and so viscerally divides people. We all need to take a lesson from the Titans, who inspired Alexandria to greater understanding for one another as human beings. I was very fortunate to be a part of interviewing Herman Boone, Bill Yoast, and players Julius Campbell, Petey Jones and Blue Stanton before their passing, and other members of the Titans. And I know they would be able to stand today with some extraordinary Godly wisdom for our society. As Christ said in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another.” And we should.