WASHINGTON (AP) — The football players at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School, Mayor Adrian Fenty and a room full of cheering staff needed only one word to describe her: coach.
Natalie Randolph, a 29-year-old biology and environmental sciences teacher, was introduced Friday, March 12 as the coach of the school's Coolidge Colts. She's believed to be the nation's only female head coach of a high school varsity football team.
“While I'm proud to be part of what this all means,” Randolph said, “being female has nothing to do with it. I love football.
I love football, I love teaching, I love these kids. My being female has nothing to do with my support and respect for my players on the field and in the classroom.”
The news conference drew the kind of attention usually reserved for the Washington Redskins and was delayed nearly two hours so Fenty, who is up for re-election this year, could be there and proclaim “Natalie Randolph Day” in the city.
Randolph was chosen from about 15 candidates after the previous coach resigned. The Washington native and University of Virginia track star played six seasons as a receiver for the D.C. Divas of the National Women's Football Association, helping the team win the title in 2006.
She also was an assistant coach from 2006-08 at another D.C. high school, H.D. Woodson, where opposing coaches would throw funny looks her way when told she was on the staff.
Now she's a head coach, ready to dispel naysayers. And she doesn't plan to do it by screaming in the kids' faces.
“I'm probably more Tony Dungyesque,” said Randolph, who has a copy of the Super Bowl-winning coach's book. “I'm soft-spoken, so me yelling is not me. I'm going to be me. That's what I do in the classroom. When I get observed, the observers say 'I didn't expect you to be able to handle this class,' but I do what I have to do to get it done.”
Randolph's fiance, Thomas Byrd, warned that Randolph's polite demeanor could be misleading – “She packs a mean punch,” he said – and her Divas teammates were on hand to describe the grit that kept her playing on a severely injured ankle several years ago.
But Randolph will no doubt have to work a bit harder than the average coach to win the respect of players, opposing coaches and the football community at large.
Keith Bulluck, a 10-year NFL veteran, posted on Twitter that he's “not saying it can't be done or shouldn't be done. Football is clearly a mans sport & it's 2 be seen how young men take to their coach being a woman.”
Randolph, her hair in dreadlocks with blonde highlights, wore a stylish necklace Friday. Some of her players already know and respect her – she's been a teacher at the school for two years. They also know players on other teams will have a field day talking trash.
“I need trash talk as my ammunition to do better,” junior defensive tackle Daniel West said. “There's nothing like proving somebody wrong. And I think that's what we're going to have to do this season – because a lot of people have something to say about her being our coach, and I feel like it's my duty and it's the team's duty to prove everybody wrong, to show that it doesn't matter. As soon as we start winning, everybody will want to be on the bandwagon.”
Coolidge went 6-4 last season under coach Jason Lane and has a state-of-the-art field, so it's not necessarily a school that needs to draw attention. Principal Thelma Jarrett insisted that in “no way” was this a publicity stunt.
“On the field, in the classroom – we'll prove 'em wrong,” Jarrett said.
Added Randolph: “People are always going to think negative things. I know what the deal is. My administration supports me, the kids support me. So that's all that really matters.”
The schedule, however, poses an unusual challenge. Her fiance is the offensive coordinator at Woodson. That should make for an interesting week when the rivals play.
“Good competition, good fun,” she said with a smile. “I love you all over there, but we're going to beat you on the field and go hang out later.”
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.