Alexandria, VA – Coach Herman Boone was a teacher to his core. In ways both obvious and subtle, he prepared every one of his students for life. And you could tell he genuinely cared about you, your future, and your success.
I took his Drivers Ed course during my sophomore year at T.C. in 1996. On the first day of class he wrote “Mr. Boone” on the chalkboard. Some kids called him that – the ones who didn’t know about his legacy. But to those who knew, he was always “Coach Boone.” He would answer to either one, but if you addressed him as Coach, it was the ultimate sign of respect. He was proud of that title and what he had done with it – bringing our city its first state championship in football.
I called him Coach Boone. Most of the people I spent time with in high school were part of the football team. Consequently I became a fixture at the games. I couldn’t play because of a physical disability, but my friends on the team made sure I was a part of everything. I served as Honorary Captain for a game, heard all the halftime speeches, and always took a place behind our bench, home or away. (This was long before the bleachers had wheelchair spaces.)
Coach Boone was always around, too. So he knew I was well aware of his history. Coach Bill Allen invited Coach Boone to give a halftime speech once, and it was the most inspirational thing I had heard up to that point in my young life. I can’t recall the words, but we were sure ready to play that second half. The following Monday during lunch, some of the guys and I agreed that if Coach Boone were allowed to give the halftime speech every week, we’d go undefeated. He fired the team up like no one else could have done, no matter how hard we played for Coach Allen.
Coach Boone had tremendous passion. For football, for teaching, for helping people in general. In Drivers Ed he was quick to smile or tell a joke. And he often taught with humor. But there was a message that went along with it. A serious message.
In class one afternoon someone in the front row was not paying attention. Coach noticed it and made sure we all did as well.
“Son,” he said to the shocked student. “Do you want to learn how to drive or are you gonna ride a bus for the rest of your life?”
The room erupted in laughter. The student in question said nothing, embarrassed.
It was funny. But I knew what Coach Boone was trying to say: If you want something, you have to work for it. If you want to achieve a goal, it takes dedication and self-reliance. No one else can reach your goal for you.
Thanks for the lesson, Coach. Safe home.