Natalie Randolph to coach Coolidge High School football team
In Natalie Randolph's first season as wide receivers coach at H.D. Woodson High School in the District a few years ago, one of the most difficult moments each week came at the end of the game when the two teams lined up for their traditional handshake.
"I hate shaking hands," she said at the time, "because they walk right past me and don't realize I'm a coach."
Randolph has been dealing with slights like that ever since she fell in love with football, a passion that led to a five-year career as a wide receiver for the D.C. Divas of the women's professional football league and a two-year stint as a varsity assistant at Woodson.
Now the 29-year-old science teacher is putting herself on the line again.
On Friday, Randolph is scheduled to be formally named the head football coach at Coolidge High School in Northwest Washington, making her what is believed to be the only woman coaching boys' varsity high school football in the United States.
The appointment, which Randolph confirmed in a brief telephone conversation Tuesday, was applauded by some of her peers in the coaching profession. It also prompted a modest amount of predictable sniping in anonymous comments on an online version of this story that a woman is unfit to be coaching a sport long dominated by boys.
"Some people say she's just a woman and she doesn't know anything. There's definitely going to be a higher level of scrutiny because it's a woman in a man's world," said Toni Morgan, a referee for the Eastern Board of Officials and a regular official of football games in the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Said one D.C. high school football coach: "All I know is, I don't want to be the first one to lose to her. That's going to be wild."
Randolph, a 1998 graduate of Sidwell Friends and former sprinter at the University of Virginia, is hardly a football newbie. She was a receiver for the Divas of the Independent Women's Professional League from 2004 to 2008 and an assistant at H.D. Woodson in 2006 and '07. She joined the Coolidge faculty in 2008 but has not coached the previous two seasons.
"She can do it," said H.D. Woodson Coach Greg Fuller, who hired Randolph as an assistant in 2006. "She's a no-nonsense kind of coach. She's a disciplinarian. She handled [the questions about being a woman coaching football] very well because she takes on any challenge you put in front of her."
No one is believed to have kept records on the number of women who have coached football in the United States, although the number is small.
According to Sydney Chambers of the Clell Wade Coaches Directory, which maintains a database of all coaches at U.S. colleges, high schools and junior high schools, there was no woman listed among the 15,675 public or private high school football coaches last season.