- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Boone coached T.C. Williams for seven years after '71. His record in Alexandria was a solid 62-19-4, but he never won another state title, and the Titans went 4-5-1 in 1978, his last season. His replacement was Paul (Doc) Hines, one of his assistant coaches, who went 13-14-3 in three years before Glenn Furman, another former Boone assistant, began a 10-year run that included state championships in 1984 and '87. In the middle of the 1991 season Fur-man's final team was 3-0 and nationally ranked, but it fell apart in a five-game losing streak. That began a slide that has continued until today, leaving little similarity between the movie team and the current squad.
How did the Titans devolve from inspirational diversity and on-field excellence to resegregated ineptitude? They had help.
Like many other U.S. cities, Alexandria has changed demographically. The availability of affordable middle-class housing diminished until the majority of the city's residents were either very poor (and often members of a minority) or very well-to-do (and often older, with grown children, or single and childless). In 1970 Alexandria's population of 110,938 was 85% white, and 77% of the students at T.C. Williams were white. Today the city's population, 128,283, is still 60% white, but the student population at T.C. Williams, the lone public high school in Alexandria, is only 27% white. The mandatory school desegregation portrayed in Remember the Titans has been reversed, in part because many middle-class white families have left the city. In 1970 more than 21,000 white couples owned homes in Alexandria; now around 14,500 do.
By contrast, the number of low-income or publicly subsidized housing units in the city, many of them populated by minority families, has increased to 4,925 from 1,125 in the days of the original Titans. "If you don't have a plan in place to keep integration functioning, you'll get resegregation," says Gary Or-field, a professor of education and social policy at Harvard and co-director of Harvard's Civil Rights Project.
As the city's demographics changed, so did support for school programs. Football, the sport with the need for the most funding, suffered worst. "The school has let football slide, and the community hasn't supported football," says Patrick Welsh, who has taught English at T.C. Williams for 30 years. "The sport has been left to die."
Another kind of trouble contributed to the decline. In the winter of 1987, following Furman's second state title, all-state linebacker Tracy Fells was arrested and charged with possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute. He was acquitted of that charge, but he was later convicted of the same offense, and in 1989 he was sentenced to a 20-year term (with a minimum of 17 years in prison). Later, another Titans player was arrested for cocaine and handgun possession. Players from both the '84 and '87 teams told SI that drug use and drug dealing were rampant among the Titans throughout the middle of the decade. "I can think of at least seven guys who were dealing drugs on the '84 team," says a starter on that year's squad, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Bill Dawes, who played on the '87 and '88 teams and is an actor living in New York City, says, "On both of my teams there was drug trafficking and drug use. You would hear conversations in the locker room. Nobody was hiding anything. I used to give some of my teammates rides home to the projects, and they talked openly about the drug trafficking on the team, and it was by no means limited to Tracy Fells."
Almost in concert with the rise and fall of Furman's teams in the '80s, the Alexandria school board stiffened the academic standards for T.C. Williams students participating in interscholastic sports. Alexandria had always used the state requirement that an athlete simply pass four courses, but in the early '80s it raised the minimum grade point average to 1.55 for the marking period prior to the relevant sports season (the previous spring for football players). Before the 1991 football season the minimum GPA was raised again, to 2.0 (a C average). The issue was—and remains-controversial, because under Virginia High School League rules athletes can play with a 1.0 average. Alexandria is one of the few school districts in the state to have raised requirements on its own. Many people in the city believed that the toughened standards were aimed at the football program and its troubles. "There was a feeling of, Let's not let the football team embarrass us anymore," says Welsh. "The school board and the administration seemed to feel that a harsh C rule would clean up the team."
Furman argued against the rule. Boone, who was retired from coaching but still teaching driver's education in the district, argued against it. Yoast, who was still working with the football team, argued against it. "Nobody seemed to realize that the kids who were going to be excluded by the rule were the ones who were most in need of supervision between three and six o'clock," says Yoast.
Paul Masem, the Alexandria superintendent from 1987 to '94, brought the 2.0 rule to Alexandria after having implemented it in the Little Rock school system, and he scoffs at the coaches' claims. "The only people who complained were coaches afraid of losing players," says Masem, who is white and who is now retired after having worked as a superintendent in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. "T.C. Williams is a big school with broad-based programs. Students doing remedial work could qualify for sports. It isn't that difficult."