WashingtonPost.com

Washington D.C.'s Calvin Coolidge High School needed a new varsity head football coach. From a pool of 15 well-qualified applicants, the school selected a confident leader with five years of professional football experience as a wide receiver and kick returner. The new coach is known as a no-nonsense teacher at Coolidge and had previously been an assistant varsity coach there and at another football-noteworthy D.C. high school.

Normally, a news tidbit like this would not have made it beyond the local papers. But this spring, CNN, ESPN, the Associated Press and a host of other reporters focused their cameras on Coolidge to see the woman who was picked for the position.

Natalie Randolph, a 29-year-old, high-school science teacher and former wide receiver for the D.C. Divas in the Independent Women's Football League, did not expect her new role as head varsity football coach to make such waves—even though she is one of maybe two women in the country with the title. Earlier this month, the New York Times profiled Randolph and noted that Debbie Vance, at Lehman High School in the Bronx, also had the title of head coach. (There was one other female head coach in the District, in 1985—Wanda Oates—but she was fired on her second day, apparently because other schools refused to play against her.) Even when D.C.'s mayor, Adrian Fenty, announced to the press that March 12, the day Randolph was hired, would henceforth be an official citywide holiday, she seemed unfazed. A very determined Randolph addressed the crowd with what sounded more like a mission statement than an acceptance speech. Then, once the flurry ended, she happily retreated down the halls past the orange lockers in the direction of her biology classroom.

Does she not know she has changed history? She does, indeed, but could truly care less. Randolph's focus is on her students and their overall success—not just football. The team spends an hour of every two-and-a-half-hour preseason practice session in study hall, and according to these student-athletes, Randolph is just as much an unrelenting overseer there as she is on the field.

Even though she is most content out of the spotlight, Natalie Randolph agreed to discuss with The Root how she arrived at such an unprecedented position.

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The Root: How did you get into women's football?

Natalie Randolph: A patient of my father's [a physical therapist] was a player and invited us to a game. I immediately knew that I wanted to try out, did so, and made the team.

TR: How did you get into coaching, and what positions have you coached?

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NR: At my old school, they knew that I played in the women's tackle league and asked me to help coach. I coached receivers.

TR: Women's football is only a decade old, and you started playing when it had only been around 4 years. Did you feel like a trendsetter?

NR: I didn't really think too much about that. I just concentrated on learning and excelling at the game because I had never played before. The implications of playing football as a woman were not what I was focused on.

NR: Maybe, when I sit down and really think about it, but not really. I don't have time to really think about it. I have the kids and the program to think about. 

TR: Why do you think Coolidge made such an unprecedented and gutsy move?

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NR: I get things done. As a teacher, I work hard for the kids and get things accomplished. The school also wanted a stronger academic program as it relates to football. And I'm very organized. 

TR: Do you feel the national attention adds to the pressure to perform (on a personal, school or player level)?

NR: I probably put more pressure on myself than anyone else will.

TR: You've said the positivity has been overwhelming, but we know that naysayers are ever present. How have you dealt with them in the past, both as a player and a coach, and how do you plan to thwart their criticism in the future?

NR: It really doesn't matter to me. People are always going to say things. I really don't care about the negative ones, to be honest.

TR: It's clear that you are invested in your team, both as students and as athletes (and in that order). What do you hope to accomplish at Coolidge?

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NR: I hope to facilitate the growth of my students. I hope to set them on the way to succeed in anything that they want to do and have fun in the process.

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However soft-spoken Coolidge's new head coach may be, it is clear to anyone who watches her work that she is a strong advocate for her players, on and off the field. However, like any other coach, her longevity will depend on whether she can deliver a winning record to her bosses at Coolidge.

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Jordyn White is a former teammate of Natalie Randolph on the D.C. Divas and a freelance writer.