"There's nothing like it anywhere in America," said the legendary coach whose first year at TC Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia is immortalized in the movie "Remember the Titans." Boone has spent a lifetime trying to break down the things that divide America. He has used football as his vehicle to get past the prejudices and tensions that still weave their way into the fabric of America.
"Let's look at what football does," said Boone, an honorary coach at the US Army All-American Bowl Game that was played Saturday at The Alamo. "Football teaches leadership, teamwork, discipline and respect. All these things are a metaphor for life and what it can teach you.
"Football doesn't care if you're rich or if you're poor. It doesn't care if you're black or white or Hispanic. None of those things are important. What is important is how you take all the things that football teaches and make them part of your daily life."
Boone was already a legend in the state of North Carolina when he took on the greatest task of his life in Arlington, Virginia. Under court-ordered integration, three schools merged to form TC Williams High School. Racial tensions were high in Arlington, and the choice of Boone over Bill Yoast was not popular. Yoast was the coach at all-white Hammond High School which was merged with the other two schools that formed TC Williams.
TC Williams put together a perfect season, a magical year in which the Titans won the Virginia state championship, but more importantly, a year in which an entire community joined together. When the season began, the racial tensions were high and there was the daily threat of violence. By season's end, blacks and whites were hugging each other joyously as the Titans beat Lewis for the state title. The football team broke down the barriers and brought together an entire community.
"Football transcends the emotional feelings and mentality of our country," said Boone. "We look at football on television and we see black kids and white kids hugging each other, standing up for one another, calling each other brothers. When football is on TV, I'm always hoping young kids are watching because that's what they are going to see.
"We see communities come together. We see student bodies come together. It's more than just the football team. It's the fans. It's the bands. It's the mothers and the fathers of the team, the cheerleaders and the band. There is nothing like football to break down all the barriers."
When he coached the Titans to the state title, his team came together because of the friendship of Gary Bertier, white, and Julius Campbell, black. The friendship they formed helped to break down the rest of the team, and one by one, black and white kids became trusting friends.
"People just don't know how good Gary and Julius were," said Boone. "They were like brothers on and off the field, and they were great players."
In the movie, Bertier missed the state championship game because of a car accident that left him paralyzed. In reality, Bertier played in the game and was involved in the accident a few days later. The All-American linebacker died in 1981.
"He was a marvelous football player, but he was a better person," said Boone who explained how the friendship between Bertier and Campbell brought the team together
"It all started with Gary and Julius," he said. "Once we learned to talk to each other, once we began to trust each other that became the emotional glue that held us together."
Boone spent his entire lifetime trying to break down the barriers and open doors of opportunity. He says that one of the things he loves about the US Army, sponsor of Saturday's All-American Bowl, is that it also breaks down barriers and opens doors.
"I love the US Army," he said. "Football is a metaphor for the philosophies of life; so is the Army. Our objectives and our philosophies are so interwoven that we need each other. We need football in this country just as we need the Army, not just for the entertainment value of football or the security that the army provides.
"We need it because how the barriers of racism are broken down through the teamwork we learn in both football and the Army. Take a look at the Army. White kids, black kids … it doesn't matter the color. They work together. They stand up for each other. They put their lives on the line for one another.
"Successful football teams require the same kind of teamwork, and look what it's teaching the rest of our society. It's teaching them to love and trust each other. It's teaching respect and discipline. It's teaching that we have to rely on one another."
Discipline is important for football success. Boone's teams rarely ran more than six plays. The idea was to take six plays and run them over and over again until they could be run to perfection.
"Well, it was actually like twelve," he said. "The same plays we ran to the right we ran to the left.
The practice field at TC Williams didn't have lights, but if it was getting dark and the team hadn't accomplished what Boone asked of them, he would have them park their cars around the field and turn on the lights.
"We were going to do it until we got it done right," he said. "It's important to learn to do things right. Football teaches you that you have to live by the rules or else you're penalized, so you do it over and over until you learn to do it right."
He laughs at how simple it was to scout his teams.
"Any coach who wanted to spy on me, take a look through my fence and take pictures, I'd just say hell, come on to my office," said Boone. "I'll give you a playbook and I'll even go over it with you play by play and tell you what we do and how we do it. Just know this, by God, we're coming at you every play."
Boone remains the caring coach today that he was when he paced the sidelines. For him, coaching was always more about what happened off the field than it was on the field. What happened on the field was a life lesson. What happened off the field was how those life lessons were applied.
"I used to teach my kids, the Titans, that four years after high school, whether you're in college or on the streets, will determine the next 40 years of your life," he said. "So what are you going to do with yourself? What how are you going to make a success of yourself?
"I believe that making it requires the kind of life lessons that you learn playing football. I also believe that the life lessons you learn in the Army are just as important.
"I think that the United States Army is a good investment in life for any young man or young woman who wants to determine what's going to happen 40 years later in life. I'm not a recruiter for the Army, but I'm a believer in what the Army does for young people. That's why I'm so happy that I'm asked to be a part of this game. Football and the Army are helping this country to break down all the barriers that exist that separate people. Football and the Army are bringing people together, and that's a good thing."