Winthrop professor reunites with 'Titans' coach

Jason Silverman, left, talks with Herman Boone at the Upper Palmetto YMCA recognition luncheon in Rock Hill on Wednesday. Boone was portrayed in Disney's 2000 movie "Remember the Titans."
Jason Silverman, left, talks with Herman Boone at the Upper Palmetto YMCA recognition luncheon in Rock Hill on Wednesday. Boone was portrayed in Disney's 2000 movie "Remember the Titans."

For 37 years, Jason Silverman has remembered the Titans.

On Wednesday, Silverman, a member of the Rock Hill school board and a Winthrop University history professor, saw his memories spring into reality when he was reunited with his former high school football coach, Herman Boone, who came to speak at a Rock Hill luncheon.

Boone, the coach of the T.C. Williams Titans high school football team in Alexandria, Va., in the early 1970s, became famous when Walt Disney Pictures turned his success story into a blockbuster movie in 2000's "Remember the Titans."

The Disney film cast Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington as Boone, the black football coach who was hired to coach the newl y integrated Titans in Alexandria. The movie was based on Boone's real-life accomplishment of leading a Titans team in the midst of racial and competitive tension to a state title and No. 2 national ranking in 1971.

Boone and Silverman, a former defensive back and kick returner for the Titans, embraced when they saw each other for the first time since 1970 at a recognition luncheon hosted by the Upper Palmetto YMCA.

"I'm just so glad he turned out all right," the 72-year-old Boone quipped moments after greeting his former player. "I hadn't spoken to him in so many years, but as soon as he walked in the room I knew who it was."

Even after notching a doctorate, teaching awards and a bookshelf full of published writings, Silverman, 55, admitted that meeting his former coach, especially after watching his likeness on the silver screen, evoked a desire to prove his mettle.

"This is the first time in my life I've been reunited with someone I haven't seen in this long. That spooked me a little bit," he said. "I've even stepped up my workout lately and toned up because I wanted him to say, 'Damn, you look like you can still play.'"

Silverman introduced Boone to the crowd of more than 250 people at the Magnolia Room at Laurel Creek in Rock Hill with an anecdote: In the summer of 1970, Silverman became one of the first Titans to meet Boone when the coach walked past the practice field shortly after being hired as an offensive coordinator for the team and saw Silverman finishing his workout. The pair exchanged names, and Boone asked Silverman to run another drill. Silverman, already exhausted from the heat, complied.

"He said, 'That's good. Can you do it faster?'" Silverman said. "So I did it again. And he said, 'Good. Can you do it faster?' This went on for 15 minutes and I thought I was gonna die. But never once did he raise his voice. He never threatened. He just inspired. ... He was the kind of guy who inspired you to do more than you thought you were capable of."

Silverman graduated high school in 1970, but was on hand the next season when T.C. Williams High integrated juniors and seniors from an all-white and all-black school across town. Boone was promoted to head coach, passing well-known white coach Bill Yoast, who many believed earned the position. The integration and Boone's promotion sparked controversy.

But Boone guided the team to an undefeated season in 1971, quelling much of the tension. He told the Rock Hill audience Wednesday that preaching care and respect motivated his team to success.

"If enough of us care, then we can talk about our differences and overcome racial tension just like the Titans did," Boone said. "I told my team, 'You don't have to like each other, but you will respect each other.' If you respect others, you will find the glue that binds."

Silverman said his encounters with Boone drove him to study history, especially race relations in the South. And he still uses inspiration gleaned from Boone as a school board member today.

"Coach Boone was the only African-American coach I ever played for, but he expressed through his actions and his deeds that color doesn't matter. We were all just human beings to him," Silverman said. "The parallels are amazing. You have to look at students as human beings, not numbers or test scores or income, but human beings. Once you accomplish that, then you can become the Titans as a teacher in the classroom."