From Comcast SportsNet
WASHINGTON (AP)Natalie Randolph is a novelty no moreat least not in these halls. Shes something even better: A winner.
Twenty months ago, the national media swarmed into a classroom at Coolidge High School to observe a curiositya press conference to announce the hiring of a female high school varsity head football coach, believed to be only one in the country. The special guest was the mayor, who happened to be running for re-election.
Last Friday, students flocked to the schools gymnasium for a celebration. Randolph has led the Colts to an 8-2 record and a berth in the most puff-your-chest-out, school-pride game of them all in the nations capitalthe Turkey Bowl city championship on Thanksgiving Day. The pep rallys noteworthy guest was longtime NFL receiver and Coolidge graduate Jerry Porter, visiting from his California home.
I got word Coolidge was in the Turkey Bowl and I was like, Yeah, Ive got to come check it out, Porter said. Its huge. Because when I was here, we didnt have very many winning seasons. We mostly watched the Turkey Bowl.
And the fact that Randolph is a woman is so yesterday. She could be the Man (or Woman) from Mars if it meant being on the field for that 11 a.m. Thanksgiving kickoff. When Coolidge faces Dunbar (8-3) on Thursdaya rematch of a game won by Dunbar in overtime earlier this monththe last thing on Randolphs mind will be the games sociological impact.
People have kind of forgotten about it, so that makes it nice, Randolph told The Associated Press in an interview in one of the schools locker rooms. But its always been about football. Its never been about gender or whatever, at least not for me.
Other people, I dont care what they think, but its always been about the kids.
School officials adamantly denied that Randolphs hiring was a publicity stunt. She was more than qualified, they pointed outa city native, a former University of Virginia track star, a receiver for six years with the D.C. Divas of the National Womens Football Association, an assistant coach for three years for the football team at rival H.D. Woodson.
The only questions seemed to be would the players respect her and could she win.
For a while, it didnt look good. She lost her first five games.
Last year, I think, was overwhelming, said Shedrick Young, the Colts defensive coordinator last season. It was overwhelming for all of us. That first game was something we never experienced, with all the cameras and stuff on the field, and media. Were not used to that, so when it calmed down and the media wasnt around, thats when the team started to jell. We started to play well.
The fifth loss came after the Colts allowed a 99-yard winning touchdown drive in the final minute. Afterward, Randolph gave a long, blistering speech to her playersa defining moment in the season.
The kids kind of realized they dont want that feeling anymore, Young said. After that, they believed in what we were doing. Instead of individual accolades, they played for each other. We didnt baby em anymore. Shes probably got the worst mouth on the field sometimes. Shell let em know.
The Colts won their next four and backed into the playoffs, finishing with a 4-7 record. The momentum carried into this season, when Randolph was able to coach her first practice and first game without the distraction of all those cameras and reporters. She never much cared for all the attention anyway.
Im not one to be all out in the open, she said. Im not a person that really enjoys being out in the public eye, and when I have something to do, I want to do that. I dont want to be bothered.
What she wants to do is teach and coach.
Athletic director Keino Wilson said the overall GPA of the team is up from 2.65 last year to 3.1. Randolph juggles her classesbiology and environmental sciencewith the sometimes unique challenges of coaching in a city where schools always seems to be facing logistical and financial hurdles.
Randolphs coaching staff was down to four earlier this season because of a new citywide process for approving assistants. The logjam is taking months to sort out. Young has to watch practices from the stands while waiting for his paperwork to clear, which means Randolph herself had to take charge of the defense.
I had to call the defensive plays for, like, seven games, she said. Its more of a collaborative effort now. Im glad, especially now that were in these big games.
After the pep rally, the Colts went to the field to practice, and they kept on going even when it became so dark that it was difficult to see the ball. The field has lights, but they are set to a timer. Finally, they came on at 5:30 p.m. to cheers from some of the players.
When practice finally ended, the Colts retreated to the locker room, thinking about their place in Coolidge history. Not as players for a female coach, but as players with a chance to win the citys biggest prize.
Everybody had that demeanor of Shes a girl coach, shes a female, said senior receiver Dayon Pratt, an East Carolina recruit. Now this year, its a dedicated coachand were going to the Turkey Bowl.