D.C. High School Football Team Picks Woman Coach

Washington, D.C.'s H.D. Woodson High School has a new coach for its boys varsity football team: Her name is Natalie Randolph. Randolph could be the only female high school varsity football coach in the country. She discusses her new job.

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Now, breaking through the glass goal line. 29-year-old Natalie Randolph already has quite a resume. She was a track star at the University of Virginia. For five years she was wide receiver with the D.C. Divas - that's a woman's pro football team. She's a high school science teacher.

And now to all that she can add head coach of a varsity high school football team. Today, Randolph accepted an offer from Coolidge High School in Washington D.C. to coach their football team and she joins us now to talk about her new job. Congratulations.

Ms. NATALIE RANDOLPH (Head Football Coach, Coolidge High School): Thank you. Thank you.

SIEGEL: And as we understand it, there were more than 15,000 football coaches that there were last year and you are the only female head coach right now. What kind of challenges do you face?

Ms. RANDOLPH: I think the biggest challenge will probably just be making sure that people focus on my kids, you know, I don't want, like, this to overshadow their glory and their goals and their making it on to the next level. I just want to make sure that they get the best out of their high school experience.

SIEGEL: Well, then what do you make of the announcement of your hiring today, which, let's say, received a little bit more press attention than most D.C. high school football coach signings.

Ms. RANDOLPH: It's - you know, it's great. I've gotten a lot of support, and I understand that this comes with the territory. It is quite different, and I'm anxious to get started actually. We're little bit behind already since it is March and most programs start in January. So I want to get started and get this thing rolling, so that the kids get the best that they can.

SIEGEL: How are your dealings with the kids going? How do they take to the idea of a woman coach?

Ms. RANDOLPH: They were so supportive. They were all really great. You know, I haven't gotten any negatives from them at all.

SIEGEL: Do you aspire someday to coach at other levels? I know it's rather early in your high school coaching career, but do you imagine someday being, say, a college varsity coach?

Ms. RANDOLPH: I don't know, it's not really a goal right now, but, you know, I guess I didn't really anticipate this either. It's not something I'm focusing on right now. I'm focusing on this season and getting the kids where they need to be.

SIEGEL: The Washington Post has reported on this and in some of the comments that people made online, many of them supportive and some of them, you know, fairly cranky about what's a woman doing coaching a high school football team.

Ms. RANDOLPH: Oh well, you know, there are going to be naysayers anywhere you go. I'm focused on my goal and everybody here supports me and that's all that really matters right now. Everybody's entitled to their own opinion. It's a free country.

SIEGEL: I saw that - I saw that you graduated from one of Washington's finest private schools.


SIEGEL: (unintelligible) to UVA


SIEGEL: How important are the academic standards for your football players going to be at Coolidge?

Ms. RANDOLPH: I want these kids to be prepared for everything. I mean, athletics is a means to an end. I want them to be complete young men. I want them to succeed in the next level and that's my main concern.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Natalie Randolph.

Ms. RANDOLPH: Okay, thanks so much.

SIEGEL: Natalie Randolph, who today accepted an offer to become head coach of Coolidge High School's varsity football team in Washington D.C. And we should mention that she is not the first woman to be a head coach. That honor went to Wanda Oates back in 1985 when she accepted the job at Ballou High School, also here in Washington. Oates, however, was forced out after only one day.

NORRIS: We'll have more in a minute on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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Meet The Nation's Only Female H.S. Football Coach

Natalie Randolph is the center of attention at a news conference held by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty i i

Natalie Randolph is the center of attention at a news conference held by Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty (left). She'll coach the Coolidge High Colts this fall. Cliff Owen/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Cliff Owen/AP
Natalie Randolph is the center of attention at a news conference held by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty

Natalie Randolph is the center of attention at a news conference held by Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty (left). She'll coach the Coolidge High Colts this fall.

Cliff Owen/AP

Natalie Randolph, a 29-year-old biology and environmental sciences teacher, was introduced Friday as the coach of Washington, D.C.'s Coolidge Colts. She's believed to be the nation's only female head coach of a high school varsity football team.

The announcement came at a news conference held by Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty, who proclaimed "Natalie Randolph Day" in the city. The hoopla underscored what the coach already knows is her "biggest challenge" — making sure her football players are the focus.

"I don't want this to overshadow their glory and their goals and them making it on to the next level," she told NPR's Robert Siegel on All Things Considered. "I want to make sure that they just get the best out of their high school experience."

At the news conference earlier, she had spelled out her feelings about being a pioneer.

"While I'm proud to be part of what this all means," she said, "being female has nothing to do with it. I love football. I love football, I love teaching, I love these kids. My being female has nothing to do with my support and respect for my players on the field and in the classroom."

She told NPR she understands that publicity focused on her "comes with the territory," but she reasserted her goal going in.

"I want these kids to be prepared for everything," she said. "Athletics is a means to an end. I want them to be complete young men."

Randolph was chosen from about 15 candidates after the previous coach resigned. The Washington native and University of Virginia track star played six seasons as a receiver for the D.C. Divas of the National Women's Football Association, helping the team win the title in 2006.

She also was an assistant coach from 2006 to '08 at another D.C. high school, H.D. Woodson, where opposing coaches would throw funny looks her way when told she was on the staff.

Now she's a head coach, ready to dispel naysayers. And she doesn't plan to do it by screaming in the kids' faces.

"I'm probably more Tony Dungy-esque," said Randolph, who has a copy of the Super Bowl-winning coach's book. "I'm soft-spoken, so me yelling is not me. I'm going to be me. That's what I do in the classroom. When I get observed, the observers say, 'I didn't expect you to be able to handle this class,' but I do what I have to do to get it done."

Randolph's fiance, Thomas Byrd, warned that her polite demeanor could be misleading — "She packs a mean punch," he said — and her Divas teammates were on hand to describe the grit that kept her playing on a severely injured ankle several years ago.

As to the possibility that success at the high school level could lead to more — like a college coaching job — Randolph told NPR's Siegel: "I don't know. I didn't really anticipate this, either. It's not something I'm focusing on right now."

Randolph might have to work a bit harder than the average coach to win the respect of players, opposing coaches and the football community at large.

Keith Bulluck, a 10-year NFL veteran, posted on Twitter that he's "not saying it can't be done or shouldn't be done. Football is clearly a mans sport & it's 2 be seen how young men take to their coach being a woman."

Some of her players already know and respect her — she's been a teacher at the school for two years. They also know players on other teams will have a field day talking trash.

"I need trash talk as my ammunition to do better," junior defensive tackle Daniel West said. "There's nothing like proving somebody wrong. And I think that's what we're going to have to do this season — because a lot of people have something to say about her being our coach, and I feel like it's my duty and it's the team's duty to prove everybody wrong, to show that it doesn't matter. As soon as we start winning, everybody will want to be on the bandwagon."

Coolidge went 6-4 last season under coach Jason Lane and has a state-of-the art field, so it's not necessarily a school that needs to draw attention. Principal Thelma Jarrett insisted that in "no way" was this a publicity stunt.

"On the field, in the classroom — we'll prove 'em wrong," Jarrett said.

Added Randolph: "People are always going to think negative things. I know what the deal is. My administration supports me, the kids support me. So that's all that really matters."

The schedule, however, poses an unusual challenge. Her fiance is the offensive coordinator at Woodson. That should make for an interesting week when the rivals play.

"Good competition, good fun," she said with a smile. "I love you all over there, but we're going to beat you on the field and go hang out later."

From The Associated Press and NPR reports



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