In recognition of his achievements in the fight for diversity, football coach Herman Boone of the “Remember the Titans” movie fame, was given the honor of throwing the first pitch at the opening game for the Pittsburgh Pirates Heritage Weekend July 22.
Many have seen the movie “Remember the Titans,” but at the African American Heritage Day Sports Luncheon earlier that day, guests heard Boone’s personal account of his struggle to integrate the Titans football team in Virginia.
|PLAY BALL—Herman Boone is joined by the Pirate Parrot and grandchildren Will, 8, Lauren, 11, Mackenzie, 11, and Myles, 10 after throwing out the opening pitch. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
“These young boys decided early in their life that enough was enough. This team, the Titans, became one of the best teams in the United States and they didn’t like each other. There is something about sports that brings us together as a nation,” Boone said. “If nothing else, the main thought I want to bring to you is no matter how much we continue to cling to our separateness, we continue to live in the only country in the world where people come from all over to call their home.”
The luncheon was one of many events during Heritage Weekend, the pirates annual celebration honoring and recognizing African-Americans in baseball while celebrating the African-American culture in the Pittsburgh community. The weekend included home games between the Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals and a festival on July 23.
“The weekend was very successful. We had a great turnout and support from the community. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves,” said Chaz Kellem, manager of diversity initiatives for the Pirates, who introduced Boone. “African American Heritage weekend allows us to recognize and celebrate the legacy and the history of the African-American community in baseball and beyond. We have an amazing tradition within baseball dating back to the Negro Leagues as well as past and current Pirates players that made amazing contributions to the community. So it’s important to keep that legacy alive. And our efforts go beyond this weekend. This weekend allows us the opportunity to showcase our commitment to the African-American community.”
The movie “Remember the Titans,” starring Denzel Washington as Boone, tells the story of one of the first integrated high school football teams in the segregated South. In 1971 Alexandria, Va., decided to integrate its school system and Boone became the head football coach of the first consolidated school, T.C. Williams High School.
“People vowed that they were not going down without a fight to integration. As I took over this newly consolidated team I was at the center of controversy. My appointment was purposely finalized just before the upcoming season to keep down protests. As (the players) sat before me the first day, it was clear they had no intention of sitting together, not even the coaches,” Boone said. “Bigotry and adversity have no business in the huddle on and off the field. Despite everything I tried to do, they continued to cling to the idea of separateness.”
The theme of Boone’s keynote speech “Lessons in Diversity” reminded guests that diversity should be celebrated and encouraged year round. While the group of young Black and White men initially refused to play as a team, they eventually put their differences aside to achieve victory on and off the field.
“Realizing that no team could survive under these conditions, I told the bus driver to take the team to Gettysburg. They had left Alexandria committed to hate, but returned from Gettysburg committed to making this thing called diversity work. Because the young boys were able to talk to each other, they broke the mold,” Boone said. “While at Gettysburg, I reminded these men that our rituals of separateness are more engrained then our rituals of togetherness. These men tell me even today that experience at Gettysburg has stuck with them.”