The sea-green tiles in the main hallway at T.C. Williams High have been the same since the fall of 1971, when a football team helped change Alexandria's history. There are reminders of that time -- an autographed football and a large team photograph -- frozen in trophy cases around the corner.
Herman Boone, the coach of that team, remembers the boys in the picture as "men before their time." Mighty words for a group of high school football players who he coached nearly 30 years ago.
The year was 1971 and the setting was Alexandria, a city struggling with turbulence sparked by the school board's decision to create more racially balanced schools. The protagonists were a group of young men who were guided by Boone to a 13-0 record and the school's first Virginia AAA state championship, while showing the city how well blacks and whites could work together.
"That 1971 team taught the people of Alexandria how to treat each other," said Boone, who is black. "The other day I saw a black child holding hands with a white child, and I thought of the '71 team."
Tonight, six players from that team -- linebacker Gerry Bertier, defensive end Julius Campbell, defensive back Earl Cook, quarterback Ron Bass, running back Frankie Glascoe and tight end Brad Smith -- will be honored as members of the Alexandria Sportsman's Club's "Dream Football Team," which names the 50 greatest players in city high school history.
Boone can tell many stories about that team. But few of his memories have to do with football.
"We were leaving to go to a [week-long] preseason camp at Gettysburg College," he said. "We had rented two buses, and all the white guys got on one bus and all the black guys got on the other. But I was not having any of that. So I made the offense get on one bus and the defense get on the other, but the white guys still sat by themselves and so did the black guys.
"So finally I took one row of blacks and made them sit with one row of whites on each bus. We were going to the site of a Civil War battle that helped decide freedom for a lot of people; how could we do that with segregated buses?"
In the spring of 1971, the city's school board decided to consolidate three high schools into one high school -- T.C. Williams -- and two junior high schools. Under the plan, 11th and 12th graders would attend T.C. Williams, and the three consolidated schools would have approximately 70 percent white, 30 percent black enrollments.
Wally Owens, a reserve defensive back, hardly played but made some important contributions to the team.
"Wally was probably the smallest kid on the team," Boone said. "Whenever Wally heard one of the white kids saying something bad about one of the black kids, he would stop him and say, `How do you know that is true? Have you ever spent time with him? Or gone to his house and seen where he lived?' By the end of preseason camp, the black guys were calling him their `blond-haired, blue-eyed soul brother.' "
The players showed the closeness they forged at Gettysburg on the first day of school. That afternoon Bertier, a white student, got in a fight with three black non-athletes in the parking lot. Campbell, Smith and several other black players sprinted to Bertier's aid.
"We said anyone who gets in a fight with a football player -- black or white -- would have to fight us as well," Campbell recalled. "I think some people were shocked we took Gerry's side, but we thought nothing of it. We were all on the same team."
An unlikely friendship was forged between Bertier and Campbell. As the season progressed, Campbell often ate dinner at Bertier's house, while Campbell's father "practically adopted Gerry," according to Boone.
"Here was a white kid who probably never thought he would have black friends and then Julius is eating at his house," said Boone, smiling. "Then Gerry would go into neighborhoods with Julius that white people never used to go in."
Bertier's football future seemed bright until the night of Dec. 11, a week after the state title victory. At the team's awards banquet that night, Bertier received the most valuable player award from assistant coach Bill Yoast, who had coached Bertier at Hammond and known him since the seventh grade.
"I gave the award to Gerry and he looked at me and said, `I feel like this is all over,' " Yoast said. "And I told him, `Gerry, this is only the beginning for you.' "
But a few hours later, Bertier was involved in a single-car accident one block from his house. He had lost control of his 1969 Camaro, ran over a fire hydrant and smashed into a telephone pole. Players and coaches hurried to Alexandria Hospital, where Boone remembered seeing Bertier with "tubes coming from every part of his body." Doctors gave him a 5 percent chance to live.
The day following the accident, the first person Bertier asked to see was Campbell. "I remember walking in to the Intensive Care Unit and Gerry gave me a clenched-fist, black-power salute," Campbell said. "I was crying and there he was, trying to make me laugh, to make me feel better. Then we just sat there and held each other and tried to stop each other from crying."
Bertier was paralyzed from the waist down after the accident but became a successful advocate for people with disabilities. He also won several medals in the Wheelchair Olympics before being struck and killed by a drunk driver in March 1981. Despite the tragedy, Campbell and Bertier's mother spent most the team's 25-year reunion laughing and reminiscing.
"Those were some fantastic days," Campbell recalled. "I used to look into the stands during games and see black parents sitting next to white parents, and everyone in the community was rooting for us. Our team created a buzz and excitement that will never be forgotten."
Playing on History
The Alexandria Sportsman's Club's football, basketball and baseball "dream teams," in commemoration of the greatest high school players in the city's history:
Paul Shu, George Washington 1935
Richard Johnson, George Washington 1942
Tom Birge, Episcopal 1947
Earl Dixon, George Washington 1950
Carlton Schelborn, George Washington 1950
Warren Treger, George Washington 1951
Ralph Kneeland, George Washington 1952
Harold Outten, George Washington 1953
John Cox, George Washington 1954
Mike Agee, George Washington 1955
Fred Bernhard, George Washington 1956
Arnie Jones, Hammond 1958
Max Chapman, Episcopal 1961
Ed Carrington, Episcopal 1962
Caldwell Tyler, Episcopal 1962
Louis Harris, Parker-Gray 1963
Eddie Keller, George Washington 1964
Jack Abraham, St. Stephen's/St. Agnes 1967
John O'Connor, Hammond 1969
Mike Mahoney, Hammond 1970
Gerry Bertier, T.C. Williams 1971
Frankie Glascoe, T.C. Williams 1971
Ron Bass, T.C. Williams 1972
Julius Campbell, T.C. Williams 1972
Earl Cook, T.C. Williams 1972
Andy Hitt, St. Stephen's/St. Agnes 1972
Brad Smith, T.C. Williams 1972
Harold Cook, T.C. Williams 1974
William DeButts III, Episcopal 1975
Jim Colantuoni, T.C. Williams 1976
Lee Shaffer, Episcopal 1977
Andrew Sharpe, T.C. Williams 1977
Jim Huddleston, Episcopal 1980
Carl Carr, T.C. Williams 1981
Jon Peteron, St. Stephen's/St. Agnes 1981
Joe Ledbetter, T.C. Williams 1983
Larry Bryant, T.C. Williams 1984
Bren Lowery, T.C. Williams 1984
Shawn McNeil, T.C. Williams 1984
Keith Burns, T.C. Williams 1989
Derek Fitzgerald, Episcopal 1990
Ratcliff Thomas, T.C. Williams 1991
Chris Buxton, St. Stephen's/St. Agnes 1992
Cary Goodwin, Episcopal 1992
Surie Kanu, T.C. Williams 1994
Sims Lenhardt, Episcopal 1994
Jimmy Cabellos, T.C. Williams 1995
Clark Mercer, T.C. Williams 1997
Dominique Wimbush, T.C. Williams 1997
Bryson Spinner, Episcopal 1999
Joe Hensley, George Washington 1944
Earl Lloyd, Parker-Gray 1946
Bob Kessler, George Washington 1952
Doug Yates, George Washington 1955
Walt Densmore, George Washington 1957
Walter Griffin, Parker-Gray 1958
Brantly Pryor, Hammond 1958
John Kemper, George Washington 1964
Harley Swift, George Washington 1965
Mike Neer, St. Stephen's/St. Agnes 1966
Ronnie Lambert, George Washington 1968
Craig Harris, T.C. Williams 1977
Arnie Russell, T.C. Williams 1980
Cathy Grimes, T.C. Williams 1981
Tyronne Shaw, T.C. Williams 1984
Glen Williams, T.C. Williams 1985
Mike Pascal, St. Stephen's/St. Agnes 1985
Chris Simpson, St. Stephen's/St. Agnes 1990
Michael Horton, T.C. Williams 1995
Daymond Jackson, T.C. Williams 1995
E.P.W. Richardson, Episcopal 1922
William Burwell, Episcopal 1925
Charles Houff, Episcopal 1931
Harold Chilcotte, Alexandria 1934
John Murnane, George Washington 1940
Jack Wheatley, George Washington 1945
Donald Thomas, George Washington 1947
Jenneth Allison Fanes, G. Washington 1948
Billy Rover, George Washington 1948
Doug Fleming, George Washington 1953
Billy Morton, George Washington 1953
Tom Meiklejohn, George Washington 1954
Butch Darley, George Washington 1955
Jim Diamond, George Washington 1961
Tommy Arehart, Hammond 1961
Randy Marsh, Hammond 1962
Joe Murphy, George Washington 1964
John O'Connor, Hammond 1970
Rick Vaughn, T.C. Williams 1974
Steve Douglas, T.C. Williams 1975
Blane McDonald, T.C. Williams 1975
John Colantuoni, T.C. Williams 1978
Michael Wright, T.C. Williams 1978
Tim McGee, Episcopal 1981
Troy Bailey, T.C. Williams 1988
Mike Southard, T.C. Williams 1991
Dave Mason, St. Stephen's/St. Agnes 1997
Lawrence Southard IV, T.C. Williams 1998
Andy Myers, T.C. Williams 1998
Matt Crater, St. Stephen's/St. Agnes 1999
CAPTION: A display case at T.C. Williams pays tribute to 1971 team and MVP Gerry Bertier, paralyzed in auto accident a week after team won Va. AAA title.