SANBORN -- Herman Boone looked like a rock star Tuesday as students milled around him to talk and get autographs after he addressed some 400 people on how such things as respect, understanding and trust helped him unite a football team and a community during a racially charged time in Alexandria, Va.
A retired football coach with a good sense of humor and the subject of the Disney movie "Remember the Titans," Boone spoke of his experience at Niagara County Community College's Fine Arts Theater.
But not before he apologized to the young women attending for not bringing Denzel Washington with him. He noted the "very expensive star" who played him in the movie is a lot younger and more handsome.
He told how he and his assistant coach Bill Yoast were able to galvanize the T.C. Williams High School football team in 1971 to go 13-0 and win a state championship despite the fact it represented the merging and integration of three high schools -- one of them black -- that year and the bad feelings that came along with it. He said the movie recounted the struggle to have people set aside their prejudices to unite the team and community toward one goal: winning football games.
It wasn't easy.
"They were kids [black and white] who had never been in touching distance of each other and knew nothing about each other . . . One kid said his father told him black kids had tails. He found out we don't," Boone said.
He said part of his formula for success was to make each team member spend time with a different teammate from 7 to 9 p.m. each day during football camp so they were forced to talk and get to know each other, respect each other and take the risk of trusting each other. He said all those elements are needed to have team members buy into his concept of having "a team of one."
He even made the defensive team ride on one team bus and the offense on the other because "I knew they had to bond" if the team was going to win.
To enhance this, he said, "As a group I always demanded that they give positive consideration to the thought that every person on the team deserves to be respected, even if you don't like each other. But even then you have to respect everybody's faith, music and food."
By taking those steps, he said, "We found that given the time and opportunity to talk to one another, you find much of what you've been taught [about other people] is not necessarily true," and people can better work together for the common good.
He said the development of "respect and trust [that resulted] became the emotional glue" that not only bound his team together, but works that way in all aspects of life.
"The team and the movie are really not about football," he said, but about something that can be applied to all aspects of life. They show that if a person is willing to leave his comfort zone and take the risk of getting to know other people and do things, it can change perspectives and provide opportunities that will make the world a better place.
"It's about things like diversity, respect, character and how a person can accept the soul of an individual that does not look like him," he said.
"By showing the world how to become a team of one," Boone said his players have taught everyone something and "have made it a better place than the world they were born into."