Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Jordan Kobritz'sThe Business of Sports: Woman to Coach HS Football

Another glass ceiling has been shattered, in the unlikeliest of places – football coaching.Natalie Randolph was introduced last week as the football coach at Calvin Coolidge High School in Washington, D.C. There are approximately 27,000 public and private high schools in the U.S., and according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, Randolph is the only female head football coach. Which is a lot of weight for Randolph to carry on her 5-foot-5, 125- pound frame.

Randolph, a 29-year-old science teacher at Coolidge High, isn’t exactly a rookie when it comes to football. Although she was never a high school or college player – for understandable reasons – she did play six seasons as a receiver for the D.C. Divas in the former National Women’s Football Association. The Divas currently play in the Independent Women’s Football League, one of several professional women’s football leagues consisting of 100 teams across the country.

This isn’t Randolph’s first foray into coaching. After graduating from the University of Virginia, where she ran track and hurdles, Randolph began her coaching career in 2004 with the Track Express Track Club in Largo, MD. In 2006, when she was teaching at H.D. Woodson High School in D.C., Greg Fuller, the head football coach, became aware of Randolph’s football background. He invited her to become the receivers’ coach, a position she held for two years until she moved on to teach at Coolidge. According to Fuller, Randolph did an outstanding job and proved she could coach boys.

Of her experiences at Woodson, Randolph maintains that the easiest part was coaching. She had no problem gaining the respect of the players and their parents. Her knowledge of the game and her experience were readily apparent. But she did have difficulty in two areas. Rival coaches were less accepting of a woman than her players, and opposing players and coaches mistook her for a member of the medical staff and brushed right by her during post-game handshakes.

It’s one thing to be an assistant coach in charge of receivers, quite another to be the head coach responsible for all aspects of the program, including wins and losses. Those who know Randolph best say she can stand up to the additional scrutiny that is sure to follow her every move. And for now, she remains confident in her knowledge and ability. But the best test of that confidence will come during the season, especially after the inevitable losses.

Despite the publicity her hiring has garnered, Randolph’s appointment isn’t a first. In 1985, Wanda Oates was appointed head football coach of Ballou High, another D.C. public high school. But Oates’ tenure lasted only a day. Opposing coaches pressured the deputy schools superintendant to remove her because they didn’t want to coach against a woman. What those coaches were really saying is they didn’t want to LOSE to a woman coach.

Will the appointment of Randolph signal a wave of women football coaches at the high school level? Don’t count on it. Football remains the most macho of all men’s sports. A female football coach is a big deal, even at the lowest levels of play. USA Football, the national governing body for youth football, reports that 4.7% of its coaches are female, perhaps due in part to the unavailability of male coaches.

Qualified or not, women coaching men, in any sport, is still a novelty. According to the National Association for Girls and Women in sport, only 2-3% of college coaches in men’s sports are women, with the majority of women coaching coed teams such as swimming or cross country.

But the door is being opened for women to coach football. And because football has more assistant coaches than any other sport, Randolph’s hiring may lead to more women coaching the sport at the scholastic level. For the time being, however, it’s doubtful that Urban Meyer and Jim Tressel will be looking over their shoulder.

Twenty-five years after Oates was terminated before she could coach a single game, Randolph gets her opportunity to prove a female can coach football. Spring workouts for Coolidge begin in May and summer practices start on August 8. One unlucky football coach is about to find out what it’s like to be the first male to lose to a female coach.

Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and owner of the Maine Guides AAA Baseball Club. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University, teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming, and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network. Jordan can be reached at jkobritz@mindspring.com.



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