Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Waiting for Superman? SHE's HERE!

We're a little under 2-months away from the midterm elections and Republicans and Democrats alike are busy putting themselves in the best position to paint their opponents on the other side of the aisle as the most incompetent, listless, and apathetic party of the bunch on issues of great importance to the American electorate such as unemployment, lagging job growth and innovation, taxes (should they be raised on the wealthiest 2% or the vast masses of struggling middle class Americans), healthcare (the Republicans are screaming bloody socialism!), the continued war effort in Afghanistan, and the "not a war anymore but still kind of our responsibility" curmudgeon going on in Iraq.

While many of our elected officials are searching the Internet and cable news programs for quotes, sound bytes, and gaffs to soak their brushes in for this fall's proverbial painting of the political kettle black, many Americans are turning to sports, theaters, reality television, and, for those who don't want to risk seeing a pols face or a political ad in between marathon episodes of The Real Housewives of Washington D.C., media-free vacations and staycations. I am not fond of many of our "public servants" and I'm usually not one to encourage anyone that I care about to watch more tv. In this case, I have to change my stripes a bit on both levels. Let me reiterate, I don't like many of our nation's elected officials but the love that I have for this great nation far outweighs any angst I may have for the stewards of our Republic. If there is a candidate for political office this fall that actually has it in their heart to do the right thing, not for fame, notoriety, or future political contributions, but simply and unequivocally for the sustenance of country, I would encourage them and their constituents to look up every article and video they can find on Natalie Randolph.

Natalie Randolph is just like any other 5'5", 130 lb science teacher you may have encountered, that is minus her brown dreadlocked hair and almost imperceptable speaking voice. As cute as Ms. Randolph's voice and coiffure are, they aren't the reason she has the sports pages and nightly news abuzz and they certainly aren't characteristic of the burning passion and fiery desire that she possesses. The 30 year old graduate of the University of Virginia was hired in March as the new head football coach at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School. Not the seamstress. Not the trainer. Not the waterboy. Not the assistant head coach. Natalie is the main guy in charge. Or should I say gal?

Many people in the D.C. community were concerned about the ability of a woman, a diminutive one at that, to coach in the competitive world of men's high school football. This included Calvin Coolidge principal Thelma Jarrett. When Randolph's name first surfaced for the vacant position, by her own accounts Jarrett was shocked. That was until she got beyond the name at the top of Randolph's resume. Natalie was a standout sprinter and hurdler at the University of Virginia and, later, wide receiver and special teams standout for the D.C. Divas women's pro football team. She also has experience coaching boys, having been an assistant football coach for Washington's H.D. Woodson High School in 2006 and 2007.

That's not all that impressed Jarrett. Randolph brought a 7-point comprehensive proposal for academic achievement to the table that included requiring all players to bring in frequent progress reports, sign personal conduct contracts, and face severe consequences for noncompliance. "Other coaching candidates only gave me assurances that these things would take place. Natalie put a plan into my hands," Coolidge principal Thelma Jarrett said. Randolph inherited a program that frequently allowed star athletes to play even if they had average to failing grades. Now, players are required to attend four study halls per week where they receive tutoring, SAT prep, and a clear idea of what their coach's priorities are.

"We needed to find the best leader, role model, coordinator and instructor for our young men," Jarrett said. "Natalie passed our first test -- she's proven herself as a great organizer, a leader who is knowledgeable about the sport as a player and a coach."

Natalie Randolph knows that, for most of the young men on her team, attending school is a daily struggle and the chance of attaining a college education is not the light at the end of the tunnel, it is survivial. Randolph grew up in inner city Washington, D.C., but not the same inner city Washington that many of her pupils traverse. She attended the prestigious Sidwell Friends private school, which boasts such distinguished alumni as former first daughter Chelsea Clinton and current first daughters Sasha and Malia Obama. Randolph understands the tremendous opportunity that she was given and now she wants to partner with the young men under her tutelage to help them realize their fullest potential in the world. "My role as head coach is to do all that I can to help these young men, these students, reach their goals. I want to make their families, the school, the city proud of us as a team, not me." Daniel West, a standout lineman for Coolidge, had reservations about playing for a woman. He didn't know whether the combination of playing for Randolph and playing on a team devoid of star players would affect his recruitment. Now West, a National Merit Scholar, is receiving invaluable help from Coach Randolph as she contacts Ivy league schools on his behalf. West will apply to Yale and Columbia this fall where he hopes to continue his football career.

Fast forward to August 28th, 2010 as Randolph led her Colts into battle for the first time against the Lions of Carroll in front of an estimated crowd of 3,500 at Coolidge's stadium. This crowd included Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty and three members of the city council, plus Randolph's former teammates on the D.C. Divas, the city's women's semipro football team. Before the game, Randolph reminded everyone of the perspective that has made her a successful teacher and which she hopes will translate into victories on the field. "It's only a football game, it's only a football game. The only reason everybody is so excited about it is because I have different parts than everybody." Meanwhile, Mayor Fenty sang the praises of Washington, D.C.'s newest pioneer. "You always want to be a trendsetter, you always want to push the envelope. But, like I've said, the reason she's the coach here is because she knows football, and knows it extremely well. She deserves this opportunity, and I can't think of anything more encouraging than to see someone get an opportunity that he or she has earned."

Randolph and the Colts lost their first game 28-0. Afterwards, Principal Jarrett and coach Randolph were able to put the night's events and the events of the last 5 months into perspective. "I've seen Coolidge lose before, but they lost with pride tonight. I'm proud of them, either way you look at it. That's what I thought would happen when we hired her, that she would make us proud and this team would make us proud.'' Randolph went on to say, "It's always been about football and not all the other stuff. This is a football team, and it's like I told the kids, we're playing a football game, and we have to go try and win it."

So, it's back to the drawing board for Randolph and her staff as they prepare for their first road game of the season at Parkersburg South. Not only is Randolph charged with preparing her team with the x's and o's needed for victory but she must also prepare her team and herself for a sure to be less than amiable crowd and an environment devoid of the cameras, celebrities, and overall festive atmosphere of her first game. Whether the Colts win another game on their 12-game schedule or not, the impact that Randolph has made is historic and far reaching.

Karen Durkin, CEO of the New York-based Women's Sports Foundation, recently congratulated Natalie Randolph on her accomplishments. "Girls and women -- along with their fathers, sons and brothers -- now have clear evidence that the gridiron ceiling can be broken. Natalie's hiring will serve as a much-needed catalyst for women in leadership positions across all sports." While Randolph's hiring and any subsequent success she enjoys will without a doubt be tallied as a victory for Title IX and women's rights, the philosophy that she is implementing deserves greater admiration because it has the potential to change the way we quantify success on the gridiron and in the classroom. In an era of failing schools and failing teachers failing our students while, ssimultaneously, athletes and celebrities appear to dodge accountability for the most egregious actions, Randolph is the smartest person in the room because she realizes that the two plights are inextricably intertwined.

"While I am proud to be part of what this all means, being female has nothing to do with it. I love football, I love football. I love teaching. I love these kids."

If this one woman's love for football, teaching, and the children she holds herself responsible for and to can yield positive results in such a short amount of time, what do our elected officials need to love more to get our country back on track?

Or is the love that our elected officials have strong enough, but just not for the right things?

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