WASHINGTON (AP) - When the whistle blew and the opening kickoff sailed through the air on a beautiful late-summer night, Natalie Randolph could finally take a deep breath and focus on the thing she wants to do most _ coach football.
After months in the media spotlight, Randolph made her debut Friday night leading the Colts of Coolidge Senior High School. She is believed to be the nation's only female head coach of a high school varsity team.
But there was no Hollywood ending on this night, as the Colts were thumped 28-0 by Carroll High, a rude awakening that Randolph shook off with her usual placidity.
"It's a football game. Like I told the kids, we played a football game, we happened to lose, and we move on," she said during a post-game press conference that included ESPN, Forbes and a throng of reporters and cameramen from the D.C. metro area.
Coolidge played hard in the first half, but their inexperience, combined with a lack of conditioning, let Carroll pull away in the second half. The Colts struggled to move the ball all night, and never found a rhythm on either side of the ball.
"We got all the kinks out and we know what we have to do for next week," Randolph said. "We're young. We've got to stick to the fundamentals. We're going to work, we're going to look at the tape, find out what we missed, what we have to do, and we're going to do it."
Carroll running back Duane Thompson, who had a 29-yard touchdown run for the Lions, said his team did not make a big deal out of Randolph's presence.
"When it all comes down to it, it's 11 men on 11 men, and we're out there playing," he said. "It has nothing to do with her."
On this night, however, it had everything to do with her, even if Randolph did not want to admit it.
"This is just a football game," she said. "The only reason that everyone is so excited about it is because I happen to have some different parts than other people."
The 30-year-old Randolph was hired in March amid much fanfare, with a mayor running for re-election proclaiming "Natalie Randolph Day" in the city, but she has found the public attention at times overwhelming. At one point, the school was turning down all requests for interviews.
D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty was among the large throng at Coolidge Stadium, a turnout that was a far cry from the only 500 or so fans who usually show up.
"It's a good thing. We've got a black president, so why not a female football coach?" said Raymond Orange, a spectator in the packed stands.
The petite Randolph wore the standard Coolidge coaching gear _ black visor, white polo shirt with the Colts logo and tan shorts. She kept a poker face through much of the penalty-filled first half, delegating much to her assistants, save for the occasional words of wisdom for her players. Her team trailed 7-0 at halftime.
"You have this!" she yelled to her offense after a tough series.
Randolph, an environmental sciences teacher at the school, was chosen from about 15 candidates after the previous coach resigned. She inherited a team that went 6-4 last season.
Even in defeat, she earned kudos from Carroll coach Rick Houchens.
"Her main goal is to do something for the best interest of these kids," Houchens said. "We need more of those types of people. For her to be a female, and have that concept, it doesn't get any better than that. I have so much respect for her as a person."
A Washington, D.C., native and former University of Virginia track star, Randolph played six seasons as a receiver for the D.C. Divas of the National Women's Football Association and spent three seasons as an assistant coach at another D.C. high school.
Randolph is expecting the media crush to abate now that her first game is in the books, but her focus has not changed.
"My expectations are to do the best that we possibly can," she said. "At the end of the day, it's still a football game."
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