An article in Thursday's Metro section incorrectly characterized the student demographics of Alexandria high schools in 1971. The majority of students at two high schools, George Washington and Hammond, were white when the schools merged with T.C. Williams High School. Also, the caption for a photograph with the story gave an incorrect date. The photograph showed members of the T.C. Williams football team from 1977. (Published 10/02/1999)
Hollywood has discovered Alexandria, and the town feels a little different.
At police headquarters, they're scouring a movie script for accuracy.
At the high school, students are scanning the parking lot for Denzel Washington.
And on the football field, players are finding themselves--or at least their accents--at the center of attention.
The famous 1971 football team of T.C. Williams High School will be memorialized by Denzel Washington and Disney films in "Remember the Titans," a movie that begins shooting on Sunday.
Sadly for many star-struck locals, shooting is not on location, but in Atlanta, purportedly for cost reasons. No matter. The effects are being felt, and the film is sending the city's elder residents down memory lane and its younger ones into the history books, to a time of intense racial strife.
In 1971, the city's three high schools had just been merged into T.C. Williams, housing all of the city's juniors and seniors. Segregation was a recent memory: Two of the three high schools had been predominantly black, and another, all-black, high school had closed just six years before.
The football team was the epicenter of tension. Three teams' worth of players were to be winnowed to one. Divisions were drawn along old school, and racial, lines.
Another potential racial divide occurred when the school's white football coach, Bill Yoast, was passed over for the top coaching job, which was given to black assistant coach Herman Boone, who will be played by Washington.
"I was angry, and I was hurt," Yoast recalled yesterday. "I felt I would get the job."
Yoast agreed to be Boone's assistant coach. (The two are now chums, Yoast said, and annual golfing partners at Yoast's Bethany Beach home.) The team not only came together but forged close black-white friendships on its way to an undefeated season capturing Virginia's AAA state championship.
In so doing, they helped heal a racially torn Alexandria.
"They did a beautiful job in bringing the city together," said Ferdinand T. Day, a black member of the School Board at the time. "They set such a prime example of how we could be diverse yet get along."
Earl Cook, a member of the team and now Alexandria's deputy chief of police, said the team united the students.
"It really brought a lot of cohesiveness to that school and set a mark for the student pride, student identity," he said.
Yesterday, some students said they had trouble envisioning such a racially tense environment.
"It's hard for me to picture it here, because this is just a place where everybody gets along," said Katie Keller, 17, a senior.
Keller also said that when Boone, who also was a driver education teacher, first told the students about his new coaching role--Boone is on location in Atlanta--they scoffed.
"We were like, 'Sure there's going to be a movie, sure Denzel's going to be in it. Sure, Mr. Boone.' "
Now, students wonder whether the rumors are true that Washington will pay a visit to T.C. Williams. Unlikely, said Alan Nierob, his publicist.
Principal John Porter said people are excited about landing on Hollywood's map but curious whether the movie will portray reality.
Early indications are hopeful. A production member taped a few T.C. Williams football players chatting, intent on getting the Virginia accent just right.
And Alexandria police, many of whom monitored the halls and fields of the school in 1971, will look just as they did then.
"The prop people and costume company have been calling us almost on a daily basis," said Alexandria police spokeswoman Amy Bertsch, who also is reviewing the script for accuracy. "I'm just amazed at the accuracy and the detail that they need. Everything from what our uniforms looked like and what type of guns the officers had then, to the markings and emergency lights on the cruisers."
Coach Bill Yoast will be played by Will Patton, known best for his roles in "Desperately Seeking Susan" and "No Way Out." The appeal for Patton, said his manager, Kate Edwards, "is that it's just such a great story."
CAPTION: In 1971, T.C. Williams coach Herman Boone, right, talked with players.