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. Her inaugural season got off to a rough start with a 28-0 loss to Archbishop Carroll.
Randolph is believed to be the nation’s only female head coach of a high school varsity team.
“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 at Coolidge Stadium, a turnout that was a far cry from the only 500 or so fans who usually show up.
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.
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.
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.
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