More Than a Game

An exhausting campaign ends

(Toni L. Sandys)
Washington Post Staff Photographer
Monday, November 15, 2010

"Stop, man, before you make me cry," says senior Driscoll Warner, right, as his teammate, senior Marcus Smith, tearfully hugs Coach Natalie Randolph. It has been quite a season for the Coolidge football team. One that started long before the first kickoff, when Randolph was named head coach last spring. She became one of only a handful of female varsity coaches across the country.

From the onset, the coach and the team had plenty to deal with. For different reasons, by the time classes had started in the fall, several players transferred schools. Local and national media covered everything from the team's first practice to its first game, a 28-0 loss. "It's been a hard season," Smith said. "It's like everybody is against you because you have a female head coach, but it don't mean nothing, though. She's just like everybody else. It don't matter - female or male. She's still a coach."

Randolph still has her detractors. In the stands, parents and fans openly debate whether or not she should be on the field as head coach. Some of her players openly criticize her coaching. This after the team turned a five-game losing streak into an appearance in the DCIAA semifinal game. "They said we weren't going to do this," Smith said. "We were 0-5. We started off bad and look where we're at now."

After the 14-2 loss to H.D. Woodson, Randolph gathers her players in an end zone. She is proud of them. Proud of the way the team played together until the final whistle. They kept the game close the entire time. "They played a hell of a game," Randolph said. "They left it on the field."

She tells them not to hang their heads. "Y'all fought hard. Y'all learned a lot. We grew together and now you are better people," Randolph tells her players. "Next year, we're going to take it one step further."

Last March, when it all started, seems so long ago. The season has been like no other, and Randolph hopes that maybe now the media will go away and next year will be different. "Hopefully everybody will leave me alone," she chuckles. "It's a bit of a relief," Randolph pauses, "but there's still constant work to do." Next week, she plans a meeting with the underclassmen. There are workouts to begin.

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