an update on the female football coach in d.c.

1 Response to “an update on the female football coach in d.c.”

  1. May 12, 2010 at 6:43 PM

    WASHINGTON — When Natalie Randolph was named the head coach of Calvin Coolidge Senior High School’s football team in March, her players wasted no time in testing her.

    They wanted to know exactly how much Randolph, a petite woman with the high-pitched voice of a schoolgirl, knew about their sport. They asked her about the rules. They questioned her about plays.

    ”When we heard that Ms. Randolph was the new coach, a lot of us thought it was a joke,” Daniel West, a junior fullback and linebacker, said. ”I was like, ‘Ms. Randolph? The science teacher here? No way.’ She doesn’t look like a stereotypical coach who’s big, masculine and who yells. But she knew what she was talking about.”

    Her players had no idea that Randolph, who turns 30 next week, played six seasons with the D.C. Divas, a professional team in the Independent Women’s Football League. They were wowed when they saw videos of her as a wide receiver.

    ”Ooh, she’s fast,” West said. ”She can hit, too.”

    Yet Randolph, one of a few women to lead a varsity high school football team in the United States, was not hired at this school in northwest Washington because she had proven herself on the football field.

    Members of the hiring committee said she won the job over more than 15 other applicants — including two former N.F.L. players, several Pop Warner coaches and a retired Army brigadier general — because she emphasized one thing that those men did not: helping the players in the classroom.

    When Randolph, who was born and raised here, gave her presentation to the hiring committee, she was clear about her goals.

    ”I hope that they know that I really don’t care about winning football games,” she said. ”But I do care about school. My players will be productive citizens someday, not delinquents on a curb. Athletes are just not made to do academics enough, and that’s nationwide. But I’m going to change that.”

    In some ways, a coach that emphasizes academics over athletic achievement may be even rarer than a woman coaching at this level, said Derrick Mickels, the director of school programs for Friends of Bedford, a private management organization that works with Coolidge.

    ”The difference was that she was very sincere about teaching the kids both on and off the field,” said Mickels, a member of the hiring committee. ”Another coach asked me, ‘Why would you put a woman in that position?’ Well, when all the kids are passing their classes and getting college acceptance letters, you’ll know why.”

    Last year, the team was 6-4 under Coach Jason Lane, but academic records were not nearly as solid, said the school’s assistant principals, Aubrey Brown and Vernard Howard.

    In order to play in college, student-athletes must meet minimum requirements for grade-point average and on their entrance exam scores.

    In the past several years, a number of players at Coolidge fell short of those standards, Brown and Howard said.

    ”Ms. Randolph was hired because we want to turn this school around and she had a plan to do it,” Howard said. ”We will support her, win or lose.”

    Randolph, who is 5 feet 5 inches and 130 pounds, and wears her hair in tiny dreadlocks, was a standout in track at Sidwell Friends School, a private high school here, and at the University of Virginia. In her classroom, where she wears a coach’s whistle around her neck, she is a quiet leader in a challenging atmosphere.

    In citywide tests in 2009, 36 percent of Coolidge’s students met reading standards and 43 percent met math standards, according to the District of Columbia. And, as at many public schools in the city, truancy is a problem — and so are disciplinary issues and teenage pregnancy. In an environmental science class last month, Randolph encouraged students to work on a graph about the ozone layer amid distractions.

    ”Ooh, you’re going to win the Turkey Bowl twice,” one student shouted, referring to the city championship. ”Then they’re going to hire you at Rutgers or something.”

    Randolph is just as persistent on the football field. She often leads running drills, and rarely yells. Bob Headen, who worked with Randolph when she was the receivers coach at H. D. Woodson, a nearby high school, said her coaching style worked.

    ”She’s harder on the players than I am,” Headen, one of her assistants, said. ”Once when we had players running their mouth, I went to deal with them and she said, ‘No, I got them.’ Then she did her thing.”

    Randolph is tough, but players still appreciate the novelty of having a woman in charge. During one practice last month, the junior cornerback Raynard Ware chanted, ”Wildcats!” He was referring to the 1986 film in which Goldie Hawn played a coach of an inner-city football team. Other players have asked her if they could call her Mom.

    But that has not fazed Randolph, who became an instant celebrity when she became head coach. At least one other woman in the country currently holds the same position. Debbie Vance, of Lehman High School in the Bronx, has been the varsity football coach there for the past two seasons.

    Mayor Adrian M. Fenty held a news conference to declare Natalie Randolph Day. Later, Randolph appeared on television shows like ”Good Morning America” to talk about breaking into a male-dominated field.

    For Randolph, it is just the continuation of the attention she received in 2006, when she started coaching at Woodson. Now she is sharing that spotlight with her Coolidge team.

    ”Coach Randolph has been great for the school, for all of us,” Ware said. ”If I’m on another team, I’d definitely want to play Coolidge this season. Could you just imagine all the attention you’d get? The way I look at it, it would be free publicity.”

    For Coolidge players, though, there is a price to pay in the classroom.

    After school, Randolph’s players must attend an hourlong study hall, where they do homework and receive tutoring or help with SAT preparation. She also requires each player to have his teachers fill out a weekly behavior and progress report. Those who fail to do so must do extra running after practice or are barred from practicing. During the season, they will be barred from games. She plans to give helmet stickers to those who receive good reports.

    When Randolph asked one player for his report last month, he rolled his eyes and stomped out of her room. A few brought crumpled reports with good marks. Others received poor marks for disrupting class, failing to finish assignments or forgetting basic tools like a pen.

    ”Some of them will curse and hem and haw and try to make you cry, but what they really want is structure,” she said. ”They want to be told want to do. Otherwise they’ll do nothing.”

    There have been some hiccups. Two students, including one starter, transferred out of Coolidge after Randolph was hired. The school also has had difficulty scheduling two of its games.

    ”Nobody has come out and said it, but all of them are probably thinking that they don’t want to be the first person to lose to her,” Toby Strong, Coolidge’s athletic director, said. ”In the last several weeks, I’ve left messages with schools around here, in Ohio, Delaware, West Virginia, everywhere. Nobody has called me back. I believe it’s partly because there’s a reluctance to play a team with a woman coach.”

    Not everything, however, has been a struggle. College recruiters have contacted Randolph, giving her hope that some of her players might receive scholarships. She has been making highlight tapes to send to college coaches.

    ”What I like most about Coach Randolph is that she’s more focused on getting us into school than any other coach I ever heard of,” said West, whom Randolph called the ”smarty-pants” of the team. Last year, he was a national merit scholar.

    Just last week, West received a letter from Yale saying he would be a good fit at the university because of his academic record. Immediately, Randolph wrote a letter to Yale’s football coach to say West could play football, too.

    ”I know every little bit counts in that acceptance process,” Randolph said. ”And I’m here to make sure my players put their best foot forward.”

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