REMEMBER THE TITANS
SUBJECTS — U.S./1945 – 1991, Diversity/African-American, & Virginia; Sports/Football;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Breaking Out; Friendship; Teamwork; Leadership; Male Role Model;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Respect; Responsibility; Citizenship.
AGE; 11+; MPAA Rating — PG for thematic elements and some language;
Drama; 2000; 113 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
Give your students new perspectives on race relations, on the history of the American Revolution, and on the contribution of the Founding Fathers to the cause of representative democracy. Check out TWM’s Guide:
THE BEST OF TWM
One of the Best! This movie is on TWM’s short list of the best movies to supplement classes in United States History, High School Level.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students’ minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.
This film chronicles true events that occurred during1971 in Alexandria, Virginia, when the school board came under court order to integrate both faculty and students in the public schools. At the time, high school football was the city’s most popular sport. The Titans become a model of integration for a city in troubled times.
The film combines four stories: (1) the time-tested formula of the triumph of an underdog sports team; (2) the friendship between the two coaches, the black head coach and his white assistant, despite the fact that many thought that the white coach’s experience and years of service meant that he should be the head coach; (3) the friendship of two players, Gerry Bertier, the white team captain, and Julius Campbell, a talented black player; and (4) the story of a racially divided team coming together and playing as a unit despite the racial hatred roiling the community around it. The story of the underdog sports team is an invention of the filmmakers. Once the team coalesced at training camp, they were favored and had only one close game in their regular season. The important stories, those of the two coaches and the two players are true although many specific facts may have been supplied by the script writer. The two coaches were lifelong friends, as were the two players. The team pulled together despite the racial tensions.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Wood Harris, Ryan Hurst, Donald Adeosun Faison, Craig Kirkwood.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
Remember the Titans is useful in clarifying the shifts in attitudes and the various personal decisions that were an important part of the progress in the early days of the process of integrating public schools in the South. Students will see how the combination of self-sacrifice and self-interest motivated many of the people who struggled through these troubled times.
Students can exercise writing and research skills through assignments at the film’s end which include the role played by both high school and professional sports in the Civil Rights Movement.
Minor racial violence is shown. There is a quick non-consensual male-to-male kiss, not properly introduced or followed up, that may leave the audience confused. A major character is critically injured in a car accident.
Tell your child that the story is accurately portrayed as to the personal relationships between the coaches and the players. Point out how the courage of both adults and young people shown in the film was a major factor in the long and on-going story of racial integration in this country.
What’s True and What’s Fiction:
In 1971 high school football was the most important fall activity in many towns in Virginia. The head football coach for a large high school was an important public figure whose job could be forfeited if the season didn’t go well. If the team was a winner, the coach was a revered and powerful man. The stars of the team were heroes.
In that year, the Alexandria school board decided to comply with court orders to integrate public schools by consolidating the junior and senior classes from its three high schools into one of the schools, T.C. Williams. The Titans became the city’s most important football team. Its head coach was now the prime head coach for the city. Its players represented the entire town. In 1971 Alexandria’s star football player was Gary Bertier, the city’s only All-American. Bertier was a remarkable leader and was respected by much of the city.
The concentration of older, larger, and more experienced players gave T.C. Williams a substantial advantage over most other football teams in its division. The 1971 Titans were expected to win a championship. Consolidation also meant that players were competing for starting positions with nearly three times as many other students as before. Many players who were good enough to be on the starting team at most high schools in the country, or who had been starters the previous year, or who had rightfully expected to be starters in the coming year, would never make it off the bench. In addition, the white players from one of the schools (Hammond High) had never played with blacks. There was also a class division because Hammond had served a relatively wealthy district.
The Sports Story
Football is a sport of teamwork and emotion. If a team doesn’t coalesce, if it’s plagued by racial divisions or loyalties holding over from schools, it won’t win games no matter how much bigger or more experienced its players. At training camp, the 1971 Titans did come together. They dominated league play from the first game and had only one close game during the regular season. The state championship was a cake walk and the season ended with the Titans ranked second in the country. The sports story told by the film, of an underdog team that played a cliffhanger championship, is the least accurate part of the film.
The Racial Integration Story -- The Coaches
The film accurately portrays the dynamic of the personal and professional relationship of coaches Boone and Yoast. These are remarkable and impressive men who were able to bridge the racial divide, serve their students, and become good friends.
1970 was Herman Boone’s first year as an assistant coach at T.C. Williams. His previous job had been in North Carolina where he had a reputation as a “race man,” i.e., a man who stood up to racially prejudiced whites. (There was an incident in which Boone had fought some members of the Ku Klux Klan; he bears a scar on his head from this encounter.) Boone left North Carolina when he was passed over for a head coaching job in favor of a less qualified white man.
Boone’s coaching style was “in-your-face” and he demanded a full effort from all of his players. His goal at the training camp was to give the boys, black and white, something in common: the shared experience of being put through a tremendously rigorous training regimen under a coach who was very tough on everyone. Coach Boone tolerated no dissension. He pushed everyone very hard. His motto was, “Miss a block, and you run a mile.” He believed that life was tough and that to help his players mature he needed to be firm, even harsh at times. He tried always to be fair and applied the same very tough standards to everyone.
In 1970 Bill Yoast was head coach at the all-white and affluent Hammond High. He had coached in Alexandria for many years. Under the seniority system then prevailing in Alexandria, Yoast had the right to the head coaching job at T.C. Williams. Initially, Boone turned the job down because he believed that the position rightfully belonged to Yoast. Of the coaches in the city who could do the job, Yoast had been working there the longest. Boone changed his mind when black leaders in Alexandria begged him to accept the post for the good of the black community. Only later did Boone learn that the school board never intended him to succeed. The plan was to fire him and give the job to Yoast on the first loss of a game.
Bill Yoast had taught his players, including Gary Bertier, for years. He had coached Bertier since junior high. When Boone was tapped for the head coaching job, Yoast looked for coaching positions elsewhere and tore up the petitions the boys had circulated to protest Coach Boone’s elevation. By the time Yoast accepted Boone’s offer to coach the Titans’ defense, Yoast had received 11 offers for other coaching jobs. Yoast’s decision to swallow his pride and work as Boone’s assistant was motivated by Yoast’s deep affection for the boys he had trained for years and his initial fear that Boone would not treat white players fairly. Yoast is a religious man who had seriously considered becoming a minister but thought that it was the kids who didn’t go to church who needed help the most. Yoast states that his religious beliefs helped him deal with this situation.
As shown in the film, Yoast’s coaching style was laid back and quiet. In that way it was different than Boone’s boot camp/drill sargent approach. However, both men saw coaching as, first and foremost, a means of teaching students lessons about character, accomplishment, and life. Both men cared deeply for their students; both possessed moral courage; and both wanted to win. These similarities were the bedrock fundamentals of their coaching styles and allowed them to work together despite other, less significant but perhaps more obvious differences.
Yoast’s reservations about Boone fell away as he realized that Boone treated every player, black or white, in the same tough manner, that Boone lived and breathed football, and that he knew what he was doing as a coach. For most of the season, Coach Boone was afraid that Yoast was after his job. As shown in the film, every time an opposing team would get a few touchdowns against the Titans, Boone would threaten to take over the defense. By the end of the season, however, the two men had developed respect for one another and were friends.
Other specifics concerning the coaches:
- As shown in the film, when the team was boarding buses to leave for training camp, the boys segregated themselves by race. Coach Boone ordered them off the buses. He required them to ride as teams, defense on one bus and offense on the other, sitting white and black together. At camp, Coach Boone required whites and blacks to room together. He also made the players get to know each other and learn about their families. The team did take a tour of the Gettysburg battlefield but it wasn’t at 3:00 a.m. and the inspirational talk was made by an elderly tour guide, not Coach Boone.
- Many of the teams the Titans played against were integrated. Their opponents didn’t appreciate the fact that the Titans had an advantage in having only seniors and juniors at the school. No coach called
- Coach Boone a “monkey” nor did Coach Boone give another coach a banana when he refused to shake hands after a game. There was one coach who refused to participate in the custom of trading team films and who made a comment to the effect that a little dog had wandered onto his field and looked like a T.C. Williams player.
Coach Boone knew that if he didn’t win the state championship he’d be fired. But this was not only a matter of his race. Just about any high school coach in a community that was obsessed with football would be replaced after a very short time if he wasn’t a winner. For Coach Boone, the first black head coach of an integrated team representing the best players in the entire city, this pressure was extreme. There were many people who wanted the experiment to fail. We have not seen evidence of a specific conspiracy against Coach Boone as shown in the film, nor was there a dramatic situation in which Coach Yoast took specific actions to shut down such a conspiracy. The episode shown in the film is a dramatic way in which the filmmakers sought to describe Coach Yoast’s daily, morally courageous response to the situation. (Yoast points out that coaches always object to calls by referees. All of the referees for the games played by the Titans were white. Coach Yoast has been quoted as saying that if he had been Coach Boone, he would have been very suspicious of the reasons behind any incorrect call.)
- As shown in the film, Coach Boone vomited before the first game. In fact, he vomited before every game.
- Yoast’s daughter never went to the Boones’ home. Their daughters had met and were friendly but not as friendly as shown in the film. Yoast’s daughter was extremely angry that her father was passed over for head coach. She was very interested in football, although not as interested as the character portrayed in the film.
- It wasn’t a rock that was thrown through Coach Boone’s window; it was a toilet filled with human excrement. Coach Boone was enraged by this incident, but he didn’t go out on his porch with a gun. He didn’t own one.
- When Coach Boone came to Alexandria, he moved into a previously all-white neighborhood. His neighbors offered to buy him out, telling him, “We don’t want you here.” Coach Boone declined and lives in the house to this day. See Learning Guide to “A Raisin in the Sun.”
- In 1971, there were more than just three assistant coaches in the T.C. Williams football establishment. There were eight. After a victory in one big game, Coach Boone chartered a plane for the team’s trip home. Football at T.C. Williams in 1971 was big business.
- The character of the other white coach is fictional, an amalgam representing all of the white racists who initially pinned their hopes on Yoast. Yoast lost his relationships with many of them when he acted honorably toward the team and Coach Boone.
- In 1971 there was no Virginia High School Football Hall of Fame. An organization by that name does exist today.
- Coach Boone did tutor students to help them get into college. Coach Yoast didn’t use profanity (the film character does), but it was another story with Coach Boone.
- Coach Boone and Coach Yoast have hit the lecture circuit.
The Racial Integration Story -- The Two Players, Bertier and Campbell
Fortunately for the team, not only did it have two extraordinary men as coaches, it had several extraordinary boys as players. Gary Bertier and Julius Campbell were two of them. Bertier was in his senior year and appeared destined to play professional football. Bertier was a conservative who initially didn’t appreciate either integration or the black players. Julius Campbell was a year younger than Bertier and was interested in black power. He, too, was a gifted athlete, becoming an All-American the next year. Since Bertier was older and already revered in the city (and perhaps because he was on the white side of the racial divide, we don’t know) it was Bertier who made the initial overtures to Campbell.
Forced by Boone to room together at training camp, these boys, initially hostile, became best friends. Their friendship was one of the key factors in bringing the team together and lasted throughout their lives. The story of the players, like the story of the coaches, rings true and closely follows the facts.
Other specifics about Bertier and Campbell:
- Bertier was even more fierce, strong-willed, and aggressive than is shown in the film. He was 6’2″, weighed 220 pounds, and was extremely fast. At first he tried to intimidate Coach Boone and demanded that a certain number of positions on the team be set aside for Hammond players (read that white players from affluent families). Coach Boone refused.
- Bertier was not injured before the last game of the season. The accident occurred after the last game while he was driving home from the awards presentation. He lost control of his car on a snowy road. In the hospital, Bertier asked to see Campbell before he asked for his family. As shown in the film, Bertier’s mother told Campbell before he went into the hospital room, “Tears won’t make my baby walk.” The hospital scene shown in the film is accurate. Campbell and Bertier’s mother remained friends after Bertier died.
- Bertier is reported to have been upbeat after he was paralyzed and tried to cheer everyone up. The only person to whom he expressed sadness, to our knowledge, was Coach Yoast, who told Bertier about the wheelchair Olympics. Bertier had excelled in the shot put while in high school. Coached by Yoast, he went on to become a prominent wheelchair athlete, winning two gold medals in the wheelchair Olympics. Bertier was killed by a drunk driver in a second car accident in 1980.
- The character of Bertier’s white segregationist friend who intentionally allowed Rev, the black quarterback, to be tackled is fictional. This character in the film, as well as the character of Bertier’s girlfriend, are meant to represent whites with racial prejudice with whom Bertier parted company as his relationship with the black members of the team grew. (As to kicking the white segregationist player who purposefully missed the block off the team, Coach Boone would listen to his team captains on personnel matters. But in reality, there were several captains and Bertier, as captain of the defense, would not have authority over a member of the offense.)
The Racial Integration Story -- The Team
The movie ignores the two other major divisive factors facing the team: that students from rival schools now played on the same team and that many former starters or players who had expected to be starters would not be starters for the Titans. However, from everything that we have read or heard, none of these divisive factors were as serious as race. Certainly, no divisive factor other than race could find any support in the general community.
In addition to Bertier and Campbell, the team was blessed with other players who helped bridge the racial divide. The film focuses on Louie Lastik and Ronnie Bass, but there were probably others. Lastik had lived in an integrated section of the city and got on well with black kids. Ronnie Bass, nicknamed “Sunshine” by his teammates, had come from California. He, too, had no trouble relating to black students. In his free time Bass was often at the Berg (then a black area of town) playing basketball. Sunshine won the starting quarterback position from Jerry “Rev” Harris by impressing Coach Boone, not because Harris got injured. Coach Boone applied his racially neutral attitude across the board and if a white boy was a better player than a black student, he got the position. (Coach Boone’s “veer” offense was basically a running attack. It was Bass’ passing ability that made that offense especially effective because it drew defenders off the running game.)
What is discussed, but not shown, is how much the team and its winning season meant to the city of Alexandria in a racially tense year. In 1971 there were race riots in several U.S. cities. A shooting had raised tensions to the boiling point in Alexandria. However, racial hatred is difficult in a town busy celebrating the winning ways of its integrated football team with its integrated coaching staff. People in Alexandria gave a large measure of credit for the town’s progress in race relations to the Titans.
Other specific incidents involving the team are:
- In 1971, Alexandria was not wracked by protests over integration. The scenes of the demonstrations are fictional, the filmmakers’ way of showing racial tension. Alexandria is adjacent to Washington, D.C. and, in 1971, it had many urban characteristics. Still, it was primarily Southern and high school football was the dominant sport.
- The 1971, Titans sang more than most teams, and many of the songs they sang had been popularized by The Temptations. They also sang and chanted as part of their pregame warm up although they didn’t do a choreographed dance as shown in the film.
- The fights at the beginning of camp are underplayed in the movie. They were not only racial, but between students of the same race who were from different schools. When the team came back from camp, there was an obvious difference in their racial attitudes. As shown in the film, some of the parents thought their kids had been brainwashed. In fact, their children had grown and matured in a short time under the tutelage of a master teacher, Coach Boone.
- Team members backed each other up. Shortly after training camp Bertier was jumped by a group of black students in the school parking lot. Campbell saw the fight and came to Bertier’s rescue. It was at this point that Julius made the comment, “Well, Bertier, I don’t guess you’re Superman after all.” During tense racial times at the school, team members would patrol the halls wearing their team jerseys.
- The “Yo Mama” scene, at least according to one member of a racially-united Titans team in the 1980s, was exactly his experience.
- Some of the 1971 Titans players have commented that race was not uppermost in their minds, but that they were concentrated on football. That’s just the way the boys should have felt, but given the racial tension in the town, it was due to the hard work of the coaches that race was made irrelevant.
The Titans 20 to 30 Years Later
This film was released in 2000. The irony is that the T.C. Williams Titans of the 1990s were much different from the Titans of 1971. T.C. Williams’ record for the 1990 – 2000 period was 30 wins, 70 losses. The last winning season was 1995 and the last trip to the state playoffs was in 1990. While the 1971 Titans had 38 white players and 31 blacks, the 2001 Titans had 36 black players and only 6 white. (Alexandria’s population in 2001 was 60% white.) At that time, if white families in Alexandria could afford it, they usually sent their kids to private schools. In 2000 the football team was starved for resources while the T.C. Williams crew team, which is predominantly white, had lavish facilities funded by private contributions. The story of what happened to the Titans in the 1990s shows that if a community doesn’t have a plan in place and isn’t willing to work hard to keep integration functioning, the community will become resegregated.
How did this happen? The racial composition of the city changed as middle class white families left and community support for football declined. In 1971, T.C. Williams was 77% white. In 1991, it was the only public high school in the city and only 27% of the students were white. In addition, in the mid-1980s, long after Coach Boone had retired, drug use was rampant on the team. (One player claims that seven members of the 1984 team were dealing drugs.) Another potential cause is a rule implemented in Alexandria requiring that students in the sports program keep a minimum C average. (Under Virginia High School League rules, athletes can play with a D average.) In addition, the facilities had deteriorated due to lack of funding.
While racially-united teams persisted at T.C. Williams into the mid-1980s, by the late 1980s, white players reported that the team “belonged” to the black players. White kids at T.C. Williams report that the school is internally split, and the races don’t mix socially or academically despite the fact that they go to the same school. This section drawn from “Does Anyone Remember the Titans?”, Sports Illustrated, October 15, 2001, pp. 72 et seq.
USING THE MOVIE IN THE CLASSROOM
Before showing the movie, consider telling students the following: The stories of the coaches and the two players are reasonably accurate portrayals showing how these individuals rose to the occasion and became friends. The story of the successful integration of the team as a whole has been simplified and enhanced by the filmmakers, but it still captures the spirit of the team and of its time.
For a detailed description of what is accurate and what was changed in the adaptation of this story to the screen, see the Helpful Background section above.
After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.
1. How did the individuals portrayed in this film make racial integration work?
Answers will vary. A good discussion will include the following concepts: It took respect for others, the ability to communicate, the moral courage to change when necessary, and a commitment by the coaches not just to win football games but also to help the players mature. These coaches understood that their primary responsibility was to help prepare their players for life as adults.
2. What is the significance of this exchange between the Bertier character and the character of his mother. Bertier: “Mom, just get to know him.” Mother: “I don’t want to know him.” We do not know if this exchange really occurred, but it exemplifies one of the themes of the movie. What is it?
Hatred and prejudice are born of ignorance. If you get to know someone, hatred and prejudice are harder to maintain.
3. What was most difficult for the players to accept in the changes the team had to face?
Answers will vary. Adjusting to a new coaching style, accepting lesser roles on the team, having to work closely with team members very different from themselves and fear of failure may all have worked against a quick adjustment.
4. What factors were helpful in terms of players and coaches adjusting to the changes?
Answers will vary. Earned respect, the necessity of working together in order to win, and the power of individual personalities all served to help both players and teammates to cooperate.
Additional Discussion Questions.
1. What events in the film show that “sometimes life is just hard for no reason”?
The two automobile accidents that Bertier was involved in. The first accident paralyzed him and the second killed him. These are real events.
2. Is the story of the Titans unusual for what occurred in the South during the time of the Civil Rights Movement from 1954 on?
Yes and no. Yes, in that it was so dramatic. Yes, because in a crucial year, this football team was led by two phenomenal coaches and two amazing players. Yes, in that during a year marked by racial violence throughout the nation, an entire town took its cue from the football team and remained calm. It’s not unusual in the sense that during this period many courageous black men and women, like Coach Boone, took risks to change society. Black young people, like Campbell, let go of their rage and forgave. Courageous white people, like Bertier and Coach Yoast, realized what was really important to them (in this case the team) and took principled but unpopular stands. This happened all over the South, perhaps haltingly at times, with backsliding often, but ultimately the actions of people like Boone, Yoast, Bertier and Campbell improved the lives of many people in that region.
The four questions which follow relate to rites of passage.
3. Define the term “rite of passage.” Tell us in your answer the difference between a “passage” and a “rite of passage.”
A rite of passage is a ritual or ceremony which marks the transition from one stage of life to another. The most common rites of passage related to birth, attainment of adulthood, initiation, marriage, and death. The difference between a “passage” and a “right of passage” is that people all have transitions in their lives. Rights of passage celebrate, formalize and regulate those transitions.
4. Give some examples of rites of passage that are used in our society, and describe their benefits.
These include birth (and its associated rites such as a christening or bris), becoming an adult (a Bar Mitzvah or a Bat Mitzvah, Quinceanera), marriage (a wedding), death (a funeral or memorial service). These help people to celebrate and adjust to the rights and duties of their new situation in life.
5. Does our society provide a rite of passage to mark the transition from adolescence to maturity? If so, what is it?
There is no one agreed upon right of passage to adulthood in modern Western Society. There are some near misses. Graduation from high school or from college can serve this purpose in some families. But there is no agreed-upon ritual or occasion for a rite of passage from adolescence to maturity.
6. Some people believe that sports provide young men in our society with some of the advantages of a rite of passage which are not otherwise available. Do you agree or disagree?
It can. But again, there is no society-wide agreement that this is a rite of passage. Some of the concepts to be discussed in a good discussion of this question are that the rite of passage is not universally recognized and only affects those involved in sports. There is no one ritual and its value can depend upon whether the team wins or loses, whether the team is well managed or not, whether there is cheating or steroid use, etc.
7. List, in chronological order, if you can, the key incidents in this film that show racial barriers being broken down.
There is no one right answer. The purpose of this question is to lead students to think about the plot of the film as it relates to the theme of racial integration. A good discussion would include some of the following incidents: Lastik’s actions in the cafeteria at the training camp; the argument between Bertier and Campbell when they trade accusations about Campbell not trying and Bertier being a bad leader (this established communication); the episode at practice when Bertier and Campbell hit each other on the “right side” etc.; the scene in the locker room in which the team sings together and tells “Yo Mama” jokes; the comments at the first day of school, the scene when the players break up a racially motivated fight at the school, etc.
8. What is the proper role of the desire to win in high school and college sports?
The desire to win sets a context in which the true beneficial lessons of sports can be taught. Those lessons include: the ethical precepts contained in the ethical principles of Trustworthiness, Responsibility, Respect, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship; helping the students mature; allowing young men a field of endeavor in which they can achieve something; providing rites of passage from adolescence to maturity for some adolescents.
For more questions, see TWM’s Standard Questions Suitable for Any Film That is a Work of Fiction.
BREAKING OUT & FRIENDSHIP
1. How did playing football help the students overcome their racial prejudice? What other activities can help people overcome their differences and begin working together?
There is no correct answer to this question. The purpose of the question is for students to realize that one of the primary ways that racial prejudice is overcome is for people to have a goal that is more important than their prejudice. In this case, the goal was having a winning team (for the players) and educating the students (for the coaches). As shown in this film, once people start working together for a common goal, they realize that they have much in common and some become friends. In the situation of the Titans, not only was the goal of winning a uniting factor, but Coach Boone designed the training camp so that it was extremely rigorous and that all the players would have to work together in order to avoid very unpleasant consequences such as three times a day practices. For a story in which a woman consciously rids herself of racial prejudice in order to keep the affection of a man she loves, see Learning Guide to “Gentleman’s Agreement“.
2. Which of the characters in this film forged new ground in their relationships with others?
All of them (including the black players) except perhaps Sunshine and Lastik who from the beginning were able to accept people without regard to their race.
3. Why did Coach Yoast stay on as an assistant to Coach Boone?
According to the film, he wanted to make sure that the white students that he had coached, in some cases since junior high school, were treated fairly. One of the things that impressed Yoast about Coach Boone was that he was fair, dishing out the same harsh treatment to the black players as well as white players.
4. If you had been Coach Yoast would you have given up your chance to be in the hall of fame in order to help Coach Boone and the team?
The answer should be yes. It was the honorable and ethical thing to do. If Coach Yoast could not have given his full allegiance to the team or fulfilled his responsibilities to the players, he should not have taken the job as the assistant coach under Coach Boone. Once Coach Yoast joined the team he had the same obligation as the players: to do his best and be completely loyal. Actually, he had more of a responsibility since he was an adult and employed to teach the students. Coach Yoast more than complied with these obligations.
TEAMWORK & LEADERSHIP
5. Would the team have bonded had it not won?
According to Coach Boone, winning was very important to the bonding experience, along with communication, and getting to know the other team members.
6. What do you think would have happened if the team had bonded, had lost a game in the middle of the season, and the school board had tried to replace Boone as head coach?
The right thing would have been for the players to have gone on strike in support of Coach Boone and for Coach Yoast to have declined promotion to the position. That’s asking a lot of people, but having come to know these individuals through the research for this Learning Guide, the authors believe that this probably would have happened.
7. Coaches Boone and Yoast agree that a coach is first and foremost a teacher. How does a coach teach?
Coaches teach by example, by expecting excellence, and by setting standards.
8. If coaches are first and foremost teachers, list what they should teach their students in order of importance.
(only the first item is a right answer; the others can vary): (1) sportsmanship (the ethical principles of Trustworthiness, Responsibility, Respect and Fairness); (2) commitment to the team; (3) commitment to win; (4) hard work and perseverance; (5) striving to win while accepting loss. We are sure there are more.
9. Do you agree that Coach Yoast was too soft on the black players?
There is no right answer. Everyone has their own approach. The issue is whether this was an unintended and subtle racist attitude because it was applied to blacks more than it was to whites. Prejudice is a pernicious and subtle foe that everyone, even those who do not consider themselves to be racist, must fight. See Learning Guide to “Gentleman’s Agreement“.
10. Have you had a teacher, or a coach who inspired you to do your best? How did they do it?
The purpose of this question is to get students to think objectively about people who have made a difference in their lives.
11. Describe the different methods of motivating the team favored by Coach Boone and Coach Yoast. Remember Yoast’s statement to Boone: “There’s a fine line between tough and crazy and you’re flirting with it.” Why did Coach Boone push the boys so hard?
Boone’s coaching style was very harsh. Yoast sought to be more obviously nurturing. Boone felt that the boys would come against a difficult world and needed to learn about that world on the team. Coach Boone pushed the players so hard because he wanted to give the boys, white and black, a very tough experience that they would have to go through together. This was part of his effort to unite them. It wasn’t that he wanted the players to hate him, but that he saw the need for them to go through a common searing experience.
12. What were the similarities in the coaching styles of Boone and Yoast and were those similarities more or less important than the differences?
While there was at least one important difference between the coaching styles of Boone and Yoast, the similarities of their approaches to coaching were predominant and were a major factor in permitting them to work well together. Both men saw coaching as a teaching enterprise, they dealt honorably with other people, and they had a strong desire to win.
MALE ROLE MODEL
13. This story has several male role models. Look at the coaches and the players Bertier and Campbell. What characteristics of each do think is their best trait as a male role model?
There is no one correct response. The effort should be to get students to discuss what makes a male role model and what they respect most about the actions taken by the characters in the film.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)
1. What was wrong with the actions of Bertier’s friend, the white boy that Bertier eventually cut from the team?
Disloyalty to the team and dishonesty to his teammates. By being on the team he was promising that he would work hard for the benefit of the team, which included the black players for whom he was supposed to block. By deciding not to do that in a key play, he was being dishonest. This is the essence if disloyalty.
2. When Coach Yoast’s friends wanted to make the Titan’s lose and tried to enlist Coach Yoast in that effort, what Pillar of Character did they ask him to dishonor?
There are several Pillars that they asked him to violate, but primarily, it was the Pillar of Trustworthiness. (Other Pillars involved are: Respect (for Coach Boone, the game, the players etc. which would have been violated had Coach Yoast cooperated in the conspiracy; Citizenship because it would have been bad for the City to raise racially divisive issues; Caring because he cared for the players and they for him.)
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements)
3. Is there prejudice other than racial prejudice shown in the film?
Boone’s patronizing attitude toward Yoast’s daughter is an example of male chauvinism, and the initial prejudice against Sunshine is an example of prejudice against persons with a different lifestyle.
4. What is the Pillar of Character that is dishonored by racial prejudice?
Primarily the Pillar of Respect, but also the Pillars of Citizenship and Caring. In addition, racial prejudice leads one to other wrongful actions, as it did Bertier’s former friend.
See Teamwork-Friendship section above.
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
5. Could the team have succeeded if the players had not followed the Responsibility Pillar of Character?
No. In a competitive football league (high school, college, or professional), each player must do his or her best for three reasons. First for self-respect, second out of caring and respect for teammates, and third, to win.
(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don’t take advantage of others; Don’t blame others carelessly)
6. In real life, Ronnie Bass got the quarterback position because he beat out “Rev” Harris. Coach Boone was in direct charge of the offense and made that decision. If Coach Boone had favored the black players, would the Titan’s have been a success? Why not?
They would not have been a success because the cancer of racial preference, this time in favor of blacks, would have wrecked the efforts to build the team.
(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)
7. Should Coach Boone have taken the job in the first place or should he have insisted that Yoast get the job?
There is no right answer. The issue is pretty well described in the film. Certainly, normally, Yoast had the right to the job and Boone should have turned it down. However, there were some intervening factors that added unusual values and unexpected stakeholders into the decision. The black community in Alexandria needed a black man to take a prominent position, as did the struggle for integration as a whole. Despite his initial reluctance, these considerations convinced Coach Boone to take the position. There is no dispute that Coach Yoast deserved the position by custom and seniority and by a wide margin at that. As it turned out, Coach Boone was able to unite the team and guide it to victory. He made all the key decisions correctly, such as changing the seating on the bus, making black and white players room together, making the boys learn about each other, and bringing Yoast onto the team and trusting him. As Yoast recognized by the end of the season, Boone was the right man for the job. But then again, none of them knew this when Boone took the job.
8. Who honored the Citizenship Pillar of Character in this film and how did they do it?
Many people, including the coaches and the players on the team.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:
1. Research the actual history of the Titans football team and write a report detailing what is correct about the movie and what is incorrect. Use at least four sources.
2. Research information about the significance of sports in the Civil Rights Movement. Present your findings in an oral report to the entire class. Consider the integration of professional as well as school associated teams in your analysis.
3. Research information to create a sports integration timeline that begins with the first blacks admitted to the ranks of professional sports and continues until today. Prepare a power point presentation for the class that shows the results of your research. Suggest specific concerns about aspects of sports that are not yet fully open to all races.
4. Write an opinion essay on what you see as the most important element in integrating two of the following institutions: public schools, sports teams, workplaces, the military, and the courts. Consider the force of law, the concern for the common good, a sense of justice and even self-interest as possible factors.
Students can be asked to do the following:
- “Remember the Titans” holds together very well as a work of fiction. Ask the class whether it is important to them that most of the story, particularly the interaction between the coaches and between Bertier and Campbell, closely follows the facts? Have persons for each position explain their position and start a discussion of the different views.
- Find three adults who grew up during the late 1950s and 1960s who lived in the South (or areas in the North with racial tension such as Boston) and interview them about their experience. At least one of the adults should have taken some action to support the Civil Rights Movement (attended a demonstration, took a personal action). At least one of the adults should not have been active. Interview them about the time and their reaction to what was happening.
- Write a paper answering any one or a group of the Discussion Question set out above.
- Give a class presentation, singly or in groups, responding to any of the Discussion Question set out above
See additional Assignments for use with any Film that is a Work of Fiction.
BRIDGES TO READING
Pro Football Hall of Fame by Terry Dunnahoo — Nonfiction — Grades 4 – 6; America’s Greatest Game by J. Buckley — Nonfiction — Grades 4 and up; Football by J. Buckley — Nonfiction — Grades 4 and up; Quarterbacks! — Nonfiction — Grades 4 and up; The Story of Football by Dave Anderson — nonfiction — Grades 4 – 8; Crash by J. Spinelli — Fiction — Grades 5 and up; Quarterbacks! by G. Sullivan — Nonfiction — Grades 5 and up; and I am Third by Gale Sayers and Al Silverman — Nonfiction — Grades 6 and up.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
- 1971 Original TC Williams Titans Foundation;
- This is the stuff legends – and Titans – are made of;
- ESPN Page 2: Reel Life – Remember the Titans;
- Production Notes from the scriptwriter, director, actors, Coach Boone, and Coach Yoast;
- The Real Titans Story by J.E.;
- The Home Page for the 1971 T.C. Williams High School Football Team;
- Review by Tobias Peterson at Topmatters Film;
In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide: drafts of the Guide were submitted to Coaches Boone and Yoast for their comments. Coach Yoast replied, but to date, Coach Boone has not. The following additional resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:
- “Does Anyone Remember the Titans?”, Sports Illustrated, October 15, 2001, pp. 72 et seq.
- Best Books for Young Adults by Betty Carter, Second Edition, Young Adult Library Services Association; 2000;
- Children’s Catalogue, Eighteenth Addition, edited by Anne Price and Juliette Yaakov, the H.W. Wilson Company, New York and Dublin, 2001;
- Best Books for Children — Preschool through Grade 6, Sixth Edition, edited by John T. Gillespie, R.R. Bowker, New Providence N.J., 1998.
LEARNING GUIDE MENU:
TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students’ minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.
RANDALL KENNEDY, Professor, Harvard Law School on the two alternative traditions relating to racism in America:
“I say that the best way to address this issue is to address it forthrightly, and straightforwardly, and embrace the complicated history and the complicated presence of America. On the one hand, that’s right, slavery, and segregation, and racism, and white supremacy is deeply entrenched in America. At the same time, there has been a tremendous alternative tradition, a tradition against slavery, a tradition against segregation, a tradition against racism.
I mean, after all in the past 25 years, the United States of America has seen an African-American presence. As we speak, there is an African-American vice president. As we speak, there’s an African- American who is in charge of the Department of Defense. So we have a complicated situation. And I think the best way of addressing our race question is to just be straightforward, and be clear, and embrace the tensions, the contradictions, the complexities of race in American life. I think we need actually a new vocabulary.
So many of the terms we use, we use these terms over and over, starting with racism, structural racism, critical race theory. These words actually have been weaponized. They are vehicles for propaganda. I think we would be better off if we were more concrete, we talked about real problems, and we actually used a language that got us away from these overused terms that actually don’t mean that much. From Fahreed Zakaria, Global Public Square, CNN, December 26, 2021
Give your students new perspectives on race relations, on the history of the American Revolution, and on the contribution of the Founding Fathers to the cause of representative democracy. Check out TWM’s Guide: TWO CONTRASTING TRADITIONS RELATING TO RACISM IN AMERICA and a Tragic Irony of the American Revolution: the Sacrifice of Freedom for the African-American Slaves on the Altar of Representative Democracy.
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