In taking the stage, one of the first things Coach Herman Boone did was pay homage to his former boss.
"Thank you sir, from the bottom of my heart for believing, for trusting me to be your coach," Boone said to Dr. Arnold D. Oates, of Tyler.
Oates and Boone served as principal and head football coach, respectively, during a challenging and tumultuous time at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia.
The school and football team's story was made famous with the 2000 release of the movie, "Remember the Titans," which starred Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington as Herman Boone.
Boone was charged with successfully uniting the football team after three schools were consolidated into one.
"This team saved Dr. Oates' job and maybe even mine," Boone said of the Titans.
Boone, 80, served as keynote speaker at the Bright Ideas for Leadership and Success Conference, put on by the East Texas Center for Nonprofits, a division of the United Way of Smith County.
More than 300 people attended the luncheon at Green Acres' CrossWalk Conference Center with 130 people participating in breakout sessions throughout the day.
Gina Anderson, director of the East Texas Center for Nonprofits, said that it's easy for people to get in a rut from day-to-day, so the conference is designed to re-energize and invigorate professionals in the nonprofit world.
They have the opportunity to network and encourage each other to move forward in better shape.
"We really do hope people are inspired with some new ideas," she said.
THE START OF A TEAM
Boone regaled the audience with bits and pieces of his tale, how he and Coach Bill Yoast, the white coach who many wanted to have the head coaching job, took a fractured team of boys, white and black, and made them into state champions.
The consolidation of three Alexandria schools at T.C. Williams High School happened during an era of great turmoil for the country.
The previous decade had included, among other things, the Vietnam War, the founding of the Black Panthers, the Kent State shootings and desegregation.
"These were the times that created the powerful high school football team called the Titans," Boone said.
In 1971 Boone was appointed head football coach at T.C. Williams High School over legendary white Coach Bill Yoast, who was very popular and had a large following.
In Virginia, just like in Texas, "High school football is king," Boone said. "In Alexandria, you can take a man's wife out for lunch, but you can't fool with high school football."
Boone said it was Oates, the high school principal, who led the school system "out of the fires of hell."
Football was the first activity of the school year and therefore set an important precedent for how the rest of the year would go.
Because of that, Oates charged Boone with making it all work through teamwork and, ideally, getting the students to like each other.
Boone's response was something along the lines of, are you out of your mind?
"How in the world am I supposed to build bricks out of straw?" he said.
In the midst of all the controversy, Boone and Yoast found a way to put their differences aside and work together.
Through leadership, teamwork, patience and tolerance, and a team that was determined to win they brought the city through a challenging time, Boone said.
He said the team decided to put their differences aside at a time when it was not popular or safe. And that's what all leaders must do, he said to the crowd.
"A team is a group of people with one vision, one objective and by God one heart beat," he said.
The Titans went on to become the 1971 Virginia state champions and the team was tied for second in the nation that year based on rankings, according to the '71 Original Titans website.
The same way people watched the Titans football team and the city of Alexandria during that time, "the world is watching you to see what you're doing for the benefit of the people here in your community," Boone said.
He discouraged them from coaching their team the way he did.
"You'll be locked up for adult abuse," he said.
But he did encourage leaders to appreciate and motivate their followers. He also encouraged people to not fear failure.
"I challenge you to excel, to know that you can and to … (not) let anything get in your way," he said.
After the crowd gave Boone a standing ovation, United Way of Smith County President/CEO Nan Moore said they accepted his challenge.
Ms. Moore said a theme among the day's speakers was, "Do the right thing."
"We just need to remember that we're charged every day to do the right thing," she said.
The East Texas Center for Nonprofits presented the following awards on Friday:
Founders Award to The Meadows Foundation
Corporate Citizen Award to Ingersoll Rand/Trane
Nonprofit Leadership Award to Rick Jett of Hospice of East Texas
Did you know?
The East Texas Center for Nonprofits, a division of the United Way of Smith County, serves a 14-county area with resources, information, training, personal coaching and tools to help nonprofits be successful, according to its website.
The Bright Ideas for Leadership and Success Conference is designed to support the work of nonprofit leaders so they can run their organizations and achieve the greatest impact, according to a webpage about it.
In addition to Coach Herman Boone, other speakers were Elizabeth McCormick, a decorated Black Hawk helicopter pilot, and LaDonna Gatlin, a speaker, entertainer and author.
The East Texas Center for Nonprofits is 15 years old and the United Way of Smith County is 75 years old.
United Way President/CEO Nan Moore said in the organization's 75-year history the community has donated $65 million to United Way, money that has gone back into the work of nonprofits.