By Arya Hodjat | [email protected]
Bill Yoast, the former T.C. Williams High School football coach whose key role in the team’s integration was memorialized in the movie “Remember the Titans,” died May 23 at an assisted living facility in Springfield, Virginia. He was 94.
Yoast, who was white, was initially tapped to be T.C. Williams football coach after the 1971 integration of Alexandria’s high schools. He had been the head coach at the overwhelmingly white Francis C. Hammond, then a high school.
But Herman Boone, who is black, was instead chosen as the team’s head coach, to the dismay of some in the city. Yoast helped make the transition work by accepting the role of defensive coordinator rather than head coach, and the two powered the Titans to an undefeated season record en route to a state championship — helping unite a city heavily divided on racial lines.
“The Titans of Alexandria saved the city of Alexandria,” then-President Richard Nixon told The Washington Post in 1971.
The team’s championship run garnered national attention in 2000, when it was depicted in the Disney film “Remember the Titans.” Yoast was portrayed by Will Patton, while Boone was played by Denzel Washington.
“The movie embellished a lot of things,” said Greg Paspatis, a former kicker for T.C. Williams who be- came an Alexandria high school sports historian. “But [Yoast] was a very well respected coach. … His peers particularly liked him.”
Born in Florence, Alabama in 1924, Yoast grew up with an absentee father, and picked cotton to help support his family. He was drafted into the Army Air Corps – the precursor to the U.S. Air Force – in 1943, where he served for three years.
He later graduated from Mercer University with a degree in physical education, and taught in Sparta, Georgia, leaving after the head of the school board admonished him for letting a black baseball team shower in a local high school.
“As they walked out of the locker room each ball player made a point of shaking my hand and thanking me,” Yoast said in his 2005 memoir, “Remember This Titan,” co-written with Steve Sullivan. “I was surprised because I thought it was no big deal.”
That attitude remained when Yoast moved to Alexandria in 1960. He became head coach of Hammond, guiding the school to become a force in Virginia high school football, winning the regional championship in 1969.
John O’Connor, who played quarterback for Hammond that year, remembered his former coach as a trailblazer.
“He was somebody who was 25 years ahead of his time, as far as offensive plays,” O’Connor said. “It didn’t matter what race you were; everyone loved Coach Yoast.”
O’Connor said Yoast had a knack for innovating on the field, including a play he called the “dipsy doodle,” a play akin to a flea flicker.
“It sounds impossible … like something you’d see at a church picnic,” O’Connor said. “But we scored seven or eight touchdowns one season doing it.”
When T.C. Williams became the city’s sole public high school in 1971, Yoast was initially offered the head coaching position, but was ultimately passed over for Boone.
“Our situation was very visible,” Yoast wrote in the memoir. “Race relations aren’t a joke. Or football either.”
But Yoast and Boone bonded on and off the field – Yoast’s calm demeanor contrasting with the more blunt Boone. And despite receiving several offers for head coaching jobs elsewhere, Yoast chose to stay with the Titans as defensive coordinator.
“Coach Boone was that very loud and in your face kind of coach,” said Bob Luckett, who played center for the 1971 Titans team. “Coach Yoast was always the approachable coach. He was very calming.”
Under his guidance, the defense recorded shutouts in nine of their 13 games in 1971 – topped off with a 27-0 victory in the state title game.
“I didn’t know Yoast. Yoast didn’t know me. I knew that Hammond had no black athletes and I didn’t know if coach Yoast had anything to do with that. But we got to [training camp] and became roommates and found a way to talk to one another,” Boone told the Washington Post.
For Luckett, who knew of Yoast when his brother played for the coach, it showed that Yoast practiced what he preached — staying on as coach while the team as a whole dealt with integration.
“The coaches said to us, you need to sit down and talk to these people and get them for who they are, not because you grew up hating or disliking someone because they went to one of the opposing high schools,” Luckett said.
Bill Euille, Alexandria’s first black mayor and and a T.C. Williams alumnus, said Yoast was an integral figure in the city’s history.
“He was a coach not only to athletes, but to everyone who came in contact with him,” Euille said. “On the list of Titans, Bill Yoast is high up.”
While the Titans were never again able to replicate that dominant 1971 campaign, Yoast remained as a coach until 1996.
Yoast also battled through adversity in his personal life. He divorced twice, and his second wife Dorothy died during the birth of their daughter Bonnie, who later struggled with drug addiction. In his memoir, Yoast described reconciling with his estranged father after Bonnie was imprisoned in San Diego.
“He went down to the jail and raised hell,” Yoast wrote. “I guess he was my dad and I know Bonnie would be happy we found each other again.”
He spent many of his later years in Delaware, where he enjoyed fishing and hosting people at his beach home, Luckett said. The two remained friends decades after the end of their time together on the gridiron, Luckett said, regularly going out for breakfast.
“He embodied everything that the Titans stood for,” Luckett said. “He was a mentor, a friend and a great man.”
Yoast is survived by his ex-wife Betty, his daughters Dee Dee, Angie and Susan Gail, nine grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. He is preceded in death by daughters Bonnie and Sheryl.