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Peppermill Coach Is Finding Success In a Man's World

On Field and off, Washington Calls the Shots for Pirates

By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 25, 2004; Page PG12

It's halftime, and the Peppermill Pirates are huddled on the sideline at the Prince George's Sports Park in Mitchellville.

Neither the Pirates nor their opponents, the Bowie Bulldogs, scored in the first half.

Peppermill players shake hands after their game. The Pirates all love "Coach Cookie." One player said, "She's the pirate and we are the gravediggers." Peppermill won the county title last week.

The Pirates' head coach, Bonita "Cookie" Washington, decides it's time for a pep talk -- for her team and herself. "I need someone who's going to block," Washington says with a scowl. "We went through this, guys. You all have to want this as bad as they want it."

As much as she loves the game and her role as one of the few female youth football coaches in the area, Washington has a lot on her mind.

On Nov. 13, her team lost a controversial game to the Bulldogs during which a referee was disciplined for making a bad call. The next day, Washington, 43, visited her ailing husband, Anthony, in a Montgomery County nursing home, where he had lived for months. During that visit, Washington said, her husband told her not to worry about the loss.

"You'll get it back," he told her.

She had no idea at the time that those words would be among the last pieces of advice he would give her. He died four days later, hours before the Peppermill Pirates were to play Bowie again, this time for the division championship.

As her husband would have wanted, Washington, a mother of five, gathered her composure and prepared for the big rematch.

"Every time they hit you," she said in her pep talk to the team the day her husband died, "you have to hit them as hard as they hit you."

Minutes later, her team was back on the field, pushing and shoving and blocking and running. Finally, they scored, not once but twice, winning the championship.

'Bulldog in a Skirt'

To most people who know Washington, she is "Coach Cookie," a fierce leader and one of the few women in the area to lead a boys' youth league team. "She's a bulldog in a skirt," said 10-year-old Gregory Evans, who plays on Washington's team.

Indeed, Washington's even temper and pleasant smile belie her reputation as a toughie. Since she was named a head coach in 1992, she has had just three losing seasons.

This year, her team is 8-1. With the win against Bowie, her team won the division championship. But the Pirates fell short of their bid to win the the county Super Bowl when they lost to the Camp Springs Tigers on Saturday, 13-12.

"It's very competitive," Washington, a 1979 graduate of H.D. Woodson High School in the District, said of the youth league. "You have people who don't want to be beaten, and to lose against a female is really hard for them."

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