WASHINGTON – The Thursday afternoon gathering of male students outside Natalie Randolph’s first-floor environmental science classroom at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School is hard to ignore.
Even after the final dismissal bell, the rowdy group of boys is not quick to leave the Northwest D.C. campus.
Instead, they meet outside Randolph’s classroom in a hallway that stretches endlessly with orange lockers.
Some of the boys joke around with each other and occasionally yell out to Randolph, who ever-so-casually tells them to go to study hall.
Others drift in and out of Randolph’s classroom with actual questions. And one of the teens, visibly upset, comes to Randolph to seek advice behind a closed door.
“I always told the kids they were my children,” says Randolph, who has taught at the school for six years.
To these high school students, Randolph is more than a teacher and a role model. Until recently, she was their football coach. And even though she resigned two weeks ago after the school’s last game of the season, her role as “coach” has not subsided.
Four years ago, Randolph, who grew up in D.C. and received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia, took on the role of what many say was the first female high school football coach in the country. But if you ask Randolph, she says it was all an accident.
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“I said ‘No’ several times,” says Randolph, who explains the school asked her to take the position because the administration wanted somebody who would put an emphasis on academics.
Natalie Randolph stands in her science classroom at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
However, after talking to friends, both in school and outside of school, Randolph agreed to take the position.
“It was an accident, a happy accident,” she says.
Football is a sport in which Randolph did not need a crash course. The 33-year-old formerly worked as an assistant football coach at H.D. Woodson High School in Northeast D.C., and played wide receiver for six years on the District’s professional football team, D.C. Divas.
“So I knew about football,” Randolph says. “And I can say now that I know a lot more about football than I did when I started.”
While many parents and students were receptive to the idea of a woman taking on the role of head coach, Randolph says three players expressed hesitation.
“They came to me and they spoke frankly about it, they were open and honest,” Randolph says. Ironically, Randolph ended up establishing close friendships with each of those players. Even though they are in college now, they still call to check in on “coach.”
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Instead of diving into the role with the goal of clinching a championship, Randolph put academics ahead of the game. She enforced study hall hours and made her players use assignment logs and turn in progress sheets.
“I tried to make sure that they understood that (school) was the most important part of it. And they needed that in order to move on to the next level in college,” she says. “I stayed on them