By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 13, 2010; D08
When Coolidge High announced in January 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 for the D.C. Divas of the Independent Women's Professional League and also served two seasons as an assistant coach at another D.C. 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 members 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. She joins just one other woman in the country holding a football head coaching position: Debbie Vance, who has led Lehman High in the Bronx, N.Y., the past two seasons.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty proclaimed March 12, 2010, as "Natalie Randolph Day" in the District.
"The next time I give you one of these," said Fenty, holding the proclamation and referring to the DCIAA's football title game, "is when you're the city champions when you win the Turkey Bowl."
The Post first reported Randolph's hiring Tuesday, giving Randolph more than two days to prepare for her formal introduction -- and to brace herself for the inevitable criticism of her arrival into one of the few remaining nearly all-boys clubs, that of football coaches.
"People are going to say stuff wherever you go. I can't control what people say," Randolph said. "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."
Potentially one of the most difficult groups of people to sway proved to be the most easily convinced. When Randolph met with about 40 members of the team in a school conference room on Tuesday afternoon, some of the players had already heard rumors of her appointment. After Principal Thelma Jarrett introduced Randolph, there was overwhelming applause -- Randolph is a popular and well-liked teacher among the Coolidge student body.
Jarrett said the school administration weighed the scrutiny that Randolph's hiring was bound to bring not just to the football program, but to the school as a whole.
"We're ready for that," Jarrett said. "We need a leader, a role model, a coordinator and an instructor for our young men."
Some of the players had played for a female coach in boys' club games, according to sophomore Oluwakemi Bamiro, so seeing Randolph take control of the program was not a new phenomenon. "We all have mothers, so that's a coach. It's not going to be any different," said Bamiro, who took Randolph's environmental science class last year. "We're going to be playing football on Friday nights, trying to get a 'W.' "
Zarunda Pratt, whose son Dayon is a sophomore wide receiver, has been the Coolidge team mom the past two seasons. She was thrilled to learn that a woman will be coaching her son.
"A female coach will be more compassionate, more concerned about the children getting home at a certain time, and not just making it all about football," Pratt said.
Since The Post first reported Randolph's hiring on Tuesday, two organizations that track coaching hires at the high school level, the Clell Wade Coaches Directory and the National High School Sports Foundation, each said they believed Randolph to be the only woman currently at the head of a varsity football program. They and The Post overlooked Vance, who took over Lehman's program in the Bronx in July 2008 after spending 12 years as the school's junior varsity head coach. Vance, who led Lehman to a 5-4 record and a playoff berth last season, said Randolph's support system is most critical. Randolph has brought on some assistants so far, including former longtime H.D. Woodson head coach Bob Headen, who was a Woodson assistant in 2006, when Randolph became a wide receivers coach for the Warriors.
Also on the staff is Monica Livingston, one of Randolph's former Divas teammates. When Randolph approached her about coming aboard, the two shared plenty of concerns -- none of which involved gender.
"We didn't have that conversation, I'm sure, to everyone's dismay," Livingston said. "This female stuff is irrelevant to us because we've always been females."