Randolph’s players are the new kids to the league’s 42nd annual Thanksgiving Day party at Eastern High — this is just their second appearance in the game since 1987; Dunbar has played in 12 of the past 13 games. And, of course, there’s the fact that Randolph will be the first woman ever to coach in this game and is believed to be the only woman currently coaching a high school football team in the country.
Her arrival here is hardly an accident. It’s pretty close to the script as DCPS would have written when she was hired amid national headlines in March 2010.
All she has done is put in the work.
“I don’t think there is another coach in DCIAA history that has done what Natalie has done,” Coolidge Principal Thelma Jarrett said. “We’re talking about boys in the ninth grade that were walking the halls constantly. You’re talking about boys that gave up constantly, not gangs, but neighborhood crews. All of these schools have these challenges. But we have Natalie and people said she couldn’t do it and couldn’t go in the locker room and couldn’t relate to men. But she has exceeded those expectations.”
It’s not uncommon for coaches, particularly in DCPS, to go beyond their job descriptions. But Coolidge players say that in Randolph they see a uniquely genuine person, someone who is tough when needed (“no study hall, no practice”) but will cheer louder than anyone when they earn an A.
Randolph, 31, invites players over and orders a dozen pizzas or puts food on the grill for them. This week, she traded in her two-door coupe for a larger, four-door sports utility vehicle mainly so she can give more players rides home, to football camps over the summer or on college visits.
“I have a dog and these guys,” she said, smiling. “That’s it.”
In the 20 months since she was hired, Randolph has poured her life into the job. She has juggled teaching three environmental science classes and coaching her football team on three hours of sleep a night.
“I don’t know how she is still upright and functioning with the million ways she has spread herself,” said Eileen Pascucci, who teaches science and, along with teacher Pam Cogas, helps run the study hall for the football team. “She seriously does everything.”