WASHINGTON – She led a group of players in a huddle, with her arms raised and meeting in the middle. She gestured, called out instructions, monitored drills with a discerning face, and even cracked a smile.
In other words, Natalie Randolph's first practice at Coolidge Senior High School had much the same feel as thousands of other high school practices run across the country. The only difference: There was a woman in charge.
Now that she is, Randolph hopes all the fuss will die down a bit.
"I'm glad all that's over," Randolph told The Associated Press. "It went pretty well, so I'm pleased."
Randolph, believed to be the nation's only female head coach of a high school varsity team, took the field with her Coolidge Colts on a steamy and hot late Friday afternoon. She wore a standard coach's attire for the three-hour workout: gray school T-shirt, orange Coolidge shorts, tennis shoes and a black visor on over her dreadlocks.
Randolph said her message to the team was simple.
"I was just telling them, 'This is it.' We've been preparing for a while," she said. "I had a lot of them during the summer, and this is the real thing. I told them we've got to go about business."
Told that her pep talk and practice routine were no different that those of most males coaches, she said: "I hope so, yeah. I don't want to be different."
Randolph, 30, was hired amid much fanfare in March, when scores of reporters and dignitaries descended on the school and the mayor proclaimed it "Natalie Randolph Day" in the city. While she appreciates the significance of her unique status, she has been somewhat overwhelmed by the public fascination. She and the school have limited her interviews, and only a portion of the practice was open to reporters and photographers.
Randolph, an environmental sciences teacher at the school, was chosen from about 15 candidates after the previous coach resigned.
The Washington native and University of Virginia track star previously played six seasons as a receiver for the D.C. Divas of the National Women's Football Association and spent three seasons as an assistant coach at another D.C. high school.
Coolidge's first game is Aug. 27 against Archbishop Carroll.