- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Natalie Randolph had seen enough. On a frigid recent evening, the varsity football coach at Coolidge High School in Northwest Washington was directing a small group of players in a skeleton drill when something went awry: a missed block, a lackadaisical effort, maybe someone using a curse word.

Up came Ms. Randolph’s whistle. Down came her scowl.

“That was horrible!” she barked.

Without additional prompting, the Coolidge players dropped to the artificial turf, counting off pushups under the klieg lights.

Fifteen … sixteen … seventeen …

Coolidge receiver Dayon Pratt listens to instructions from head coach Natalie Randolph. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
Coolidge receiver Dayon Pratt listens to instructions from head coach Natalie Randolph. ... more >

“Don’t stop!” Ms. Randolph said.

A year and a half after garnering national attention by becoming one of a handful of women to ever work as a high school football head coach, Ms. Randolph hardly has stopped herself: Now in her second season, she has guided the Coolidge Colts to an 8-2 record and a berth in today’s D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association championship game at Eastern Senior High School, a contest of rich local tradition and interest colloquially known as the “Turkey Bowl.”

Coolidge faces rival Dunbar High in a rematch of a thrilling regular season finale between the schools, won by Dunbar 43-42 on a two-point conversion in overtime.

“I tell her all the time, she’s over the hump now,” said Coolidge assistant coach Bob Headen. “She can’t do anything more but win a championship.”

(EDITORS’ NOTE: Coolidge lost Thursday’s championship game to Dunbar 33-21)

Mr. Headen, a local legend who led H.D. Woodson High to multiple city football championships and coached eventual National Football League players such as Orlando Brown and Byron Leftwich, laughed. “It took me almost five years to win one,” he said.

When Coolidge hired Ms. Randolph in March of last year, the question for many wasn’t if she could quickly build a championship team, or even if she could produce a winning season. Rather, it was if Ms. Randolph should be coaching football in the first place.

A graduate of the prestigious District private school Sidwell Friends and a former sprinter at the University of Virginia, the 31-year-old Randolph played five seasons as a wide receiver for the D.C. Divas, a women’s professional tackle football team. She also spent two years as an assistant varsity football coach at H.D. Woodson.

Still, the appointment of a female science teacher — Ms. Randolph is also a full-time instructor at Coolidge — to a traditionally male position in a sport steeped in macho culture and played almost exclusively by boys raised eyebrows. Sports talk radio callers expressed skepticism. Internet users posted sexist, derogatory rants. A prominent, otherwise sympathetic local sportswriter wondered if Ms. Randolph’s hiring was a publicity stunt, intended to divert attention from the DCIAA’s historically dysfunctional bureaucracy and failure to provide more athletic opportunities for high school girls.

Mr. Headen, who met Ms. Randolph while working as the athletic director at H.D. Woodson, recalled receiving a phone call from former professional football player and District native Tim Baylor.

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