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Does Anyone Remember the Titans?
Tim Layden
October 15, 2001
The desegregation of T.C. Williams High in 1971 led to a state football title and a Disney movie. Thirty years later all that progress has been reserved. What happened?
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October 15, 2001

Does Anyone Remember The Titans?

The desegregation of T.C. Williams High in 1971 led to a state football title and a Disney movie. Thirty years later all that progress has been reserved. What happened?

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Miller, the retired Alexandria attorney, who is black and who was a member of the school board when it passed the 2.0 rule, agrees with Masem. "Left alone, the system wouldn't have helped kids below 2.0 get into college," says Miller. Yet the C rule remains a lightning rod at T.C. Williams; it's one of the first factors mentioned in any discussion of the football program's struggles.

As significant to the football program was the deterioration of facilities. When Ellison took over last spring, he found his only practice field was a mess of weeds and dirt. The blocking sleds were decades old, rusted and nearly useless. Locker room showers and toilets were filthy and so clogged that they couldn't be used. "I was appalled by the condition of our facilities, especially the locker room," says a former Alexandria administrator who has left the district. "There had to have been a complete breakdown in reporting and maintenance, from the facilities manager to the athletic director to the principal of the school."

Because football requires more equipment and more funding than most sports, it was hardest hit by such neglect. The weight room, according to Ellison, was a wreck. Often T.C. Williams's junior varsity and freshman football teams are pushed off practice fields by youth soccer teams. Funding for football is approximately $12,500 a year, from an athletic budget of $65,000, says athletic director Aly Khan Johnson, who in the mid-'80s was the school's cross-country and track coach. "That figure has been steady for many years," he says.

Eric Henderson, who was the football coach for two years before Ellison took over (record: 4-16, including one forfeit for an eligibility violation in 2000), says he spent $5,000 of his own money to improve the program. "I asked for help from the school, but I couldn't get any," says Henderson. "At one point I was told to cut kids because the school didn't have enough equipment for them." ( Johnson denies that Henderson was asked to cut players.)

White participation, meanwhile, had waned. Neither of Furman's state title teams had more than five white players who made significant contributions. The '84 squad had a certain amount of black-white unity, of the sort depicted in the hilarious scene in Remember the Titans in which black players initiate Gerry Bertier into the world of Yo Mama put-downs, in effect making him one of their own. Mike Porterfield, a white starting offensive lineman on the '84 team who would go on to row crew for the U.S. national team and coach the women's pair (without coxswain) to a bronze medal at the 2000 Olympics, says, "The experience I had at T.C., playing football with black guys, mixing with them every day, is something I've never replicated. I loved it and I miss it. The Yo Mama scene in the movie cut right to my heart, because that was my experience."

Three years later, however, Dawes, a starting wide receiver in '88, had a different impression of the team. "By the time I came through, it was clear that the team belonged to the black guys," he says.

Today it is rare to find a white player contributing to the football program. "Most white kids around here wouldn't even think of coming out for football," says Josh Freeman, a white senior who has been in the football program for four years and was T.C. Williams's starting center before a knee injury ended his season in early September. "They think it's a black sport."

"That's a problem," says Yoast. "Not because you need white kids to be a good football team—you don't—but because in Group AAA in Virginia you need all your good athletes on the field. Some of them are going to be white."

Says Marvin Watkins, a senior wide receiver on this year's team, "Most of the good teams we play have big white guys and quick black athletes. We don't."

Visitors to T.C. Williams are greeted by the lobby's Hall of Nations, a display of flags representing the more than 80 birth countries of the school's vastly diverse population. Diversity, however, does not breed interaction. " Alexandria has a huge international community," says former superintendent Masem, "but the community is socially split, and the school is socially split."

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