Natalie Randolph Completes Her Inaugural Season
Jody DiPerna | 11/24/2010, 12:47 p.m.
In the beginning there was so much to do. Put together a coaching staff, evaluate talent, install offensive and defensive systems, set the overall tone for her team, and, given that this is high school ball, set the academic standards, too. Natalie Randolph, head coach of the Coolidge High School football team, did it -- with the whole world watching.
"When I interviewed her [Randolph] and we started talking about academics, it was like, 'this woman gets it,'" said Principal Thelma M. Jarrett, principal at Coolidge High School. Make no mistake, Jarrett, now in her fourth year at Coolidge, wants to win football games. She is a regular presence on the sidelines of Colts games, but she also, "wants to change the whole culture of athletics and academics."
So Coolidge hired Randolph, a former 400 meter hurdler at the University of Virginia and former wide out for the D.C. Divas full-contact women's football team, a tremendously gifted athlete, but also the environmental sciences teacher at Coolidge and self-described "science nerd."
"After I thought about it and decided I would do it, I laid out my academic plan," said Randolph of her vision, which includes mandatory daily study halls for her players overseen by one of the Coolidge teachers who she tapped to be her academic coach.
"Then I thought about what I was going to do with the parents. It's not just a team. It's bigger than that. So I made sure to lay all that out. Honestly, with the parents ... they appreciate that it's about more than just football."
Those may be the goals of parents, coaches and administrators, but the players just want to win football games and nothing is so depressing as starting a season on a five game losing streak, which is exactly what happened as Coolidge dropped the first five games of the 2010 season.
The early games were full of mistakes, missed assignment, penalties, fumbles, and bad angles; the kinds of things that make coaches crazy. Randolph knew one thing for certain. She had to be herself. If she wasn't honest with her players they would know it and then they would be really lost. She asked of the players the same things she asked of herself: focus and energy.
She asked them to play through the adversity, if for nobody else, then for each other. She even quoted D.H. Lawrence to them, "I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself."
They endured. After a heart-breaking late September loss to Forrestville on a last second touchdown, the coaching staff really coalesced. The team followed. They were all learning. They won a game over Anacostia, then they got on a roll, ripping off three more, enough to net them second place in the DCIAA West and qualify them for the playoffs.
Though they lost their first round playoff game to H.D. Woodson by a score of 14-2 (advancing Woodson to its third straight Turkey Bowl), that her team fought through the roughest parts of the early season feels good.
Randolph is hardly done. Now that she has her feet wet, now that she's taken that first step of a steep challenge, the goal is to keep getting better, to make it to the Turkey Bowl and beyond.
When it all started, Randolph said she didn't know what kind of coach she would be, what shape and personality the team as a whole would take on, but unwittingly, she had an overarching philosophy that shaped her first year. During a rare quiet moment in her classroom, she said, "I just really enjoy learning things and I get off on figuring stuff out and watching the kids learn. You're always learning."