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BUCK SUTTON of Spotsylva-
Something like organize the first Gerry Bertier Foundation Charity Golf Tournament Oct. 20 at Cannon Ridge Golf Club in Stafford County.
More than a dozen of the real Titan coaches and players will be taking part there on that day.
Tournament play will be in two flights, at 8 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Organizers say there are openings to be filled for foursomes in the special round of golf. Those interested can call 373-8475.
"I can safely say that none of this would be coming together if not for for the way Gerry's teammates and others still feel about this very special player and person," said Sutton. "It's very fitting that it's all happening for the first fundraiser to be held by the newly formed Gerry Bertier Foundation."
For those not familiar with the "Remember the Titans" phenomenon, it's a 2000 Disney sports film about the consolidation of three high school football teams into one in Alexandria, Va., during desegregation.
Starring Denzel Washington and Will Patton as the coaches who walk the team through a minefield of racial and competitive tensions, the film has become a phenomenal hit.
Many who see it say they are touched by the brotherhood the players form, despite the racial hatred swirling outside the high school, T.C. Williams.
In the film and in real life, defensive standout Bertier was a stalwart for the team that recorded a no-loss season in 1971. Though his teammates say that Disney took creative license with the Titans' story, they agree Disney got it right portraying Bertier as a brother to all his teammates who saw past color and former allegiances.
Earlier this year, Sutton, whose wife is Bertier's first cousin, learned that the friends and family of the former player had created a foundation in his honor.
It was done largely because of the work Bertier did after his days as a Titan football player. Injured in a bad accident, Bertier used a wheelchair and eventually died in an accident at the hands of a drunken driver.
"He became very involved in working for handicapped access and the rights of those with disabilities," said Becky Britt, Bertier's sister and the president of the new Gerry Bertier #42 Foundation. "The mission of the foundation is to raise money and donate it to spinal cord research."
Money raised by the Stafford tournament will go to Virginia Commonwealth University's Physical Medicine Rehabilitation Center.
Sutton, who like Bertier, grew up in Alexandria, said he knew that one thing could make the tournament take off.
"I knew if we could get some of the original Titans playing and coming down to talk to folks, this could be big," he said. "Even I wasn't ready for how quickly they signed on once they realized it was all for Gerry."
Mike Hopson, one of the Titans, was one of the reasons the word spread so quickly.
By phone last week, he noted that the real-life players whose story was told by Disney have now formed their own Titan Foundation, in large part to handle the ever-growing interest the public has in them and their story.
Hopson, a leader of the group, said the foundation provides scholarships for T.C. Williams students, for families in need, for worthwhile programs in the Alexandria area and other uses.
When he learned that Britt and Sutton were putting together the golf tournament in Stafford, an event that organizers hope to make an annual outing, the word quickly went out to the Titans.
Coaches Herman Boon and Bill Yoast and more than a dozen players are expected to meet and greet the public at Cannon Ridge between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Oct. 20.
"Once the players heard it was for Gerry's Foundation, we had people signing on right and left," said Hopson. "He was a special guy to all his teammates."
I asked Hopson and former teammate Petey Jones--the running back who switched to defense in the film--how they felt about the movie Disney made.
Jones said the movie overdid the racial tensions between players.
"We were players from three teams coming together to make one team," said Jones. "The real tension for us was competing for our spots. That was a lot bigger thing than who was white and who was black. Having started for our own teams, all of a sudden we had to beat out other guys just to play."
Jones had one other thing to set straight: "They had that thing wrong about me fumbling all the time. It didn't happen. I never dropped the ball."
The pair, still close friends, said the film did a pretty good job of characterizing the two coaches, and dramatized things like a 6 a.m. training run by turning it into a middle of the night team punishment.
"Coach Boon always says that they didn't get his look right," laughed Hopson. "He said he's a lot better looking than Denzel."
Britt said her family was largely happy with the way her brother was portrayed, though they said her mother wasn't the racist that she was made out to be in the film.
Chris Lynch at Cannon Ridge, one of the region's top public courses, said he and others there are proud to be involved.
"To be honest, we usually wouldn't be so much a part of the planning for this kind of event," said Lynch. "But this foundation and the 'Remember The Titans' connection makes this unique; makes it special."
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