'Boys club' no more: D.C. woman is coach

At Coolidge, Randolph latest to accomplish the rare feat

March 13, 2010|By Alan Goldenbach | The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — - When Coolidge High announced two months ago that it was looking for a new football coach, one of the school's science teachers was sitting in a conference room in the building when a colleague asked, "Why don't you put your name in for it?"

Natalie Randolph chewed on the idea for a bit. She didn't know of another woman who was coaching high school football, but that didn't concern her. To Randolph, who had played five seasons in a women's professional football league and also served two seasons as an assistant at another Washington high school, it came down to a few simple facts.

"I can do it," she said. "I'm qualified. I played the game. I know the kids. I love the kids."

And with those thoughts in her mind, Randolph, 29, walked into Room 134 at Coolidge on Friday afternoon to the applause of family and former teammates, hoots and hollers from students, and flashbulbs from a throng of media and proudly took over as the Colts' next football coach, joining just a handful of women nationally who have ever held the position.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty opened the news conference, saying, "Natalie Randolph, like all the head coaches who preceded her ... is being honored because she's the best person for this job."

The Washington Post first reported Randolph's hiring Tuesday evening, giving Randolph two days to prepare for her formal introduction - and to absorb the inevitable criticism and judgment that football is one of the few remaining all-boys clubs.

"People are going to say stuff wherever you go. I can't control what people say," said Randolph, sporting a grin the width of a football and earrings that matched the orange Coolidge banner on the wall behind her. "The first thing is, I love football, no matter whose domain it is. I'm going to do it. If I let people dictate what I do, I wouldn't be where I am.

"While I'm proud to be a part of what this all means, being female has nothing to do with it."

One of the most difficult groups of people to potentially sway proved to be the most easily convinced. When Randolph met with about 40 members of the team in a school conference room Tuesday afternoon, some of the players had already heard rumors of her appointment. After principal Thelma Jarrett introduced Randolph, there was overwhelming applause because Randolph is a popular teacher among the Coolidge student body.

Some of the players had already played for a female coach in boys club games, according to sophomore Oluwakemi Bamico, so seeing Randolph take control of the program was not a new phenomenon.

"We're finally getting a coach and a coach that I like," said Bamico, who took Randolph's environmental science class last year. "We all respect her as a person, and that's all that matters.

"We all have mothers, so that's a coach. It's not going to be any different. We're going to be playing football on Friday nights, trying to get a 'W.' "

Randolph's hiring has prompted a surge in both school and gender pride. On Thursday evening, Coolidge teachers Eileen Pascucci and Pam Cogas were at a restaurant celebrating Randolph's new position when Cogas decided they should do something to honor their colleague.

So they went to a Target store and had Randolph's picture, which they took off Facebook, reproduced on the front of white T-shirts.

Underneath the photo were the words "Team Randolph"; on the back, the phrase, "You play like a girl."

"We just figured we should do something to honor her," said Pascucci, who teaches with Randolph in the science department.

"This is amazing."

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