‘Titans’ Coach Recounts His Mercer Experience at Founders’ Day

February 12, 2009

Mark Vanderhoek
(478) 301-4037

Mercerian Bill Yoast (right) speaks with Mercer students following his speech at Founders' Day on Wednesday.
Mercerian Bill Yoast (right) speaks with Mercer students following his speech at Founders' Day on Wednesday.

By Sarah Tarr
Student Newswriter


MACON — Mercer alumnus William “Bill” Yoast, who was chronicled in the movie “Remember the Titans,” earned a standing ovation following his speech Wednesday from more than 1,000 students, faculty and staff gathered for Mercer’s Founders’ Day celebration in Willingham Auditorium.

Yoast, a 1949 graduate of Mercer, recalled fond memories of his years at Mercer, as well as his encounters with the filmmakers and his recipe for success – and how much his years at Mercer contributed to them. “My life exceeded my dreams,” he said.

Founders’ Day is sponsored by the Student Government Association, and offers a time for Mercerians to reflect on the University’s rich traditions and history by hearing from prominent alumni. Yoast reflected on his life, his memories of Mercer and gave advice to students as they make their way into the world.

“I remember the people who served the food, they were great, you could always talk them into a little extra,” Yoast said of his time at Mercer.  “And the professors, I don’t remember all of their names, but every one of them made me feel like I belonged at Mercer.”

Yoast, who came to Mercer to become a preacher and left as a high school coach, said that the word integration was not even invented when he graduated in 1949. “I didn’t even know what diversity meant,” he said.

However, Yoast soon learned about the term, as he saw and dealt with racial issues in his coaching career. The most famous of those experiences became the basis for the popular “Remember the Titans,” for which Yoast earned $100 and a free meal, he recalled. The movie chronicled Yoast and his work alongside head coach Herman Boone, as they led the T. C. Williams High School football team to a Virginia state championship in 1971, the first year the school and team were integrated. 

Yoast shared the wisdom of his more than 40 years as a coach and mentor, advice which helped him to weather the many storms in his life. “You have a choice, you can live in trust, it’s all up to you,” he said. “I chose trust, and it’s worked for me.”

It was Yoast’s attitude that made him successful in those turbulent times, he said. He encouraged students to prepare themselves emotionally and mentally to deal with their own trials. “You have to be prepared to deal with adversity in order to be successful. In school, you learn a lesson and take a test, but in life, you take a test and learn a lesson,” he said.

“Mercer will prepare you academically and physically, but being prepared academically and physically does not mean you will be successful,” Yoast said. “The things that make you successful don’t show up on a transcript. Your success will be determined by the things that can’t be measured – attitude, loyalty and happiness.”

As he donned a Mercer cap, Yoast concluded with a flourish. “I left here with a million-dollar attitude and, today, I’m so proud to be back,” he said. “I am Mercer!”

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