What may be to some a mere coincidence is to others a divine appointment. For me, meeting Coach Herman Boone at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, on the night of January 22, 2009 still seems more miraculous, than coincidental. I had gone alone to the ONU English Chapel simply as a spectator to hear the famous coach speak about, “…The Importance of observing the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.” Boone made national headlines in 1971 when as head football coach at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, his team won the state championship by overcoming enormous racial tensions.
T.C. Williams was comprised of three newly integrated schools that year. Boone and his assistant coach, Bill Yoast, who had been a successful head coach at one of the former schools joined forces to lead the Titans to victory. The friendship that developed between Boone, a black coach with an impossible task, and Yoast, a winning white coach is truly inspiring. The Titan’s story was so inspirational that Coach Boone made headlines again in 2000 when Walt Disney Studios released the now classic movie, “Remember the Titans.” Starring Denzel Washington as Coach Boone, the film is a vivid reminder of the courageous pioneers in the Civil Rights movement.
It wasn’t only Boone’s incredible tenacity in the face of adversity that impressed me, but it was also his ability to make rival teams come together. Therefore, when I originally watched the movie, I found the interviews with the “real” Coach Boone fascinating. Although, Boone doesn’t resemble Denzel Washington, he jokes about his imaginary likeness to the Hollywood star.
Concerned that I might not get a seat at ONU that night, I arrived an hour early and found a place way off to the side in the front row. Some Lima Senior High students filled all the seats nearby, except for one empty chair next to me. Then shortly, before the program started an older black man of small stature asked if it would be ok if he sat next to me. I recognized him instantly from the movie’s special features. It was Coach Herman Boone. I invited him to take the seat, which seemed reserved just for him. While waiting for the program to start, Coach Boone began to converse with the boys from nearby Lima Senior High School. He let them know in no uncertain terms, that he didn’t care for sagging pants and that no respectable young man should wear them. The high schoolers were polite, which was good, because I could tell they had no idea who he was. Thankfully, the boys weren’t wearing sagging britches.
Then Herman Boone turned to me, and we chatted briefly. I told him how deeply the movie inspired me, and he smiled graciously. When Coach Boone addressed the crowd, he shared about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saying, “[We] gather not to remember Dr. King’s death, but to remember his life…not the sadness of losing him… [but] his message of peace and love [that] was universal.” Dr. King taught us all the importance of relationship, and Coach Boone shared about the way the Titans became a team by learning to “talk to each other….We had problems, but we found a way to respect each other,” he said.
The other night, “Remember the Titans” was showing again on the Family Channel. This time as I watched it, the film seemed like far more than just an inspirational story. After all, I met the real Coach Boone. More than 70-years-old at the time, he greeted countless ONU and community students patiently answering their questions following his message. When it was finally my turn, I asked the coach if he thought divine intervention helped him to win the 1971 state championship. Without hesitation, Boone answered, “I think so…I’m a believer in God…God does work in mysterious ways sometimes…”
Dr. Martin King, Jr. had a dream, “That one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
Coach Boone had a dream, too, and he found a role model in Martin Luther King, Jr. “In the face of danger, he motivated me and my family,” he said. If we are honest, we all have dreams. May the legacy of Dr. King and Coach Boone remind us to fight for our visions with perseverance, faith, and the non-violent weapon of love. In the words of the inspiring coach, “..Let us continue to dream, because dreams have no expiration date.”
Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Originally published in The Lima News.