Real-life inspiration for "Remember the Titans" speaks in Sumter

By Tim Pulliam - email

SUMTER, SC (WIS) - The real-life football coach portrayed by Denzel Washington was in Sumter on Thursday to talk about diversity and getting people to accept people's differences.

At Wilson Hall School, legendary coach Herman Boone ran to the podium with the same amount of excitement he would have just before a big game. But instead of coaching players on the field, Coach Boone huddled together parents, students, black, white and everyone in between.

He made his message plain and simple: accept people's differences. "Diversity is not about the color of one's skin, but about who you are as an individual," said Boone.

Coach Boone knows a thing or two about diversity. In 1971, he was chosen to be the head football coach of a recently desegregated high school in Virginia. His story was made into the blockbuster movie Remember the Titans.

It was a turbulent time for Boone, one he says is difficult to describe. "It will take a year to come close to telling you what a 65-70-year-old black man had to go through in the early, late 60s early 70s," said Boone. "We lived in separate worlds."

The coach was successful pulling both his white and black players together, and the Titans went on to win the state championship that season. "'You don't have to like a person,' I told the Titans," said Boone. "I didn't like half of them, but you do have to respect it."

It's a message the crowd didn't fumble, nor did student Jack Barnes. "Now it's not so much accepting the other race, but getting out of your everyday clique," said Barnes. "Making sure that your experiencing the whole world, not just what your comfortable with."

A touchdown for coach Boone, whose sole goal is tackling prejudice. "Being able to change, attempt to change attitudes, I have a passion for that," he said.

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