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Coach Herman Boone at Penn State: 'Education Frees the Mind ... '

on February 23, 2011 11:37 AM

Famed football coach Herman Boone, portrayed in the 2000 film "Remember the Titans," called on Penn State students Tuesday to celebrate their differences, honor their national history and commit themselves to hard work.

"'Success' is only a word that comes in front of 'hard work' in a dictionary," Boone, 75, told an Eisenhower Auditorium crowd. "If you're not willing to work hard, you're not going to be successful."

An estimated 1,500 people turned out for his talk, part of the Distinguished Speakers Series at University Park. Boone spoke for about 45 minutes before taking audience questions for about half an hour.

He covered a gamut, recognizing Penn State football defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. -- a former player of Boone's -- before delving into the value of Black History Month, nuances of his coaching career and life lessons. He dropped some well-timed jokes throughout, at one point suggesting that someone better-looking than Denzel Washington could have portrayed him in "Remember the Titans."

On black history, Boone said, it's critical that the country remember accurately the many and significant contributions of black Americans. Their past has too long been ignored and misconstrued, he said.

That loss of history, he argued, has helped undermine many black youths' sense of identity and their collective past. He lamented those whose pants hang low.

"When they do, let me remind (those youth) that they will not reach their rightful place in the senior management of our country," Boone said.

Among the other observations and thoughts he shared Tuesday night:

  • When his newly desegregated Titans football team, of T.C. Williams High in Virginia, played in the state's championship football game in 1971, Penn State coach Joe Paterno told Boone that it was "one of the best football teams he (had) ever seen," Boone recalled. The story of that Titans team was the inspiration for "Remember the Titans," in which Denzel Washington plays Boone.
  • As the Titans' coach in 1971, Boone said he demanded that the players respect one another. He said the players developed a trust -- an emotional glue -- that emerged after they began to talk and essentially live together. The "Titans" movie, he said, "is not about sports." He said the teammates learned to understand one another -- and, through those bonds, helped their respective families and their wider community work through desegregation. "These young boys found a way to celebrate their differences," Boone said.
  • Washington is the most "dynamic person" Boone has ever known, he said. He said the actor is committed to his family, to his religion and to helping the less-fortunate. "In all seriousness, it was very intimidating to know a man of his stature asked for that role" in "Remember the Titans," Boone said. The film has grossed some $278 million.
  • Boone repeatedly encouraged Penn Staters to pursue their goals -- and to never give up. He insisted on fielding questions from all 11 students who queued up to speak with him, even though a monitor tried to cut off the question-and-answer session after eight questions.

"Education," Boone told the group, "frees the mind of the human body."

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