Is Michelle Rhee Using Natalie Randolph to Make It Look Like She Cares About Girls in Sports?
For the justifiably overappreciated print version of Washington City Paper, I wrote this week about how Natalie Randolph, the new Coolidge coach and Parade cover girl, is being used to cover up serious gender inequities within the athletic programs offered by D.C. Public Schools under Michelle Rhee. Pick up a copy, read the column, gaze in glee at the absent-no-longer Showtimes section, please don't eat the daisies.
Let other folks repeat the feel-good portions of the Natalie Randolph story. There's a whole lot about the hiring of America's only woman football coach that's suspect.
On paper, Randolph is laughably underqualified to take over a DCIAA program, where the football programs routinely crank out NCAA scholarship athletes. Her football coaching experience amounted to two years as a receivers coach at H.D. Woodson high school, and she didn't coach football at all last year, according to the version she's been telling the press for months. But don't blame her for being hired: She wasn't even looking to become a coach when she was recruited for the top job at Coolidge, she told Parade. Randolph's hiring was handled by some outsider funky education reform group called the Friends of Bedford, which now runs the long-troubled Coolidge, located in Takoma.
Since being handed the job, Randolph and her players have been followed around by an ESPN crew. According to the Parade story, one of many national profiles of Randolph that's run recently, she and her players made a trip to the NFL Draft in New York a few months ago.
Color me cynical, but: Really? Aren't there more pressing needs at Coolidge where that sort of money could have been spent. If footage of that New York excursion shows up on ESPN, an investigation of the whole shebang is in order. The entire Randolph saga so far stinks of a publicity stunt, like a real-life remaking of "Wildcats," the Goldie Hawn feature film where a petite pretty woman takes over an inner city football program.
But the stinkiest thing about the Randolph hiring is that all the attention it's generating masks some incredibly serious problems with the athletic programs at Coolidge, specifically, and throughout Rhee's DCPS. Randolph or no, female students at the school and all over this city have criminally few athletic opportunities compared to girls at D.C.'s private schools or public schools in surrounding jurisdictions. If it weren't for volleyball, in fact, at Coolidge the girls would have just about no athletic opportunities this fall. Randolph, who grew up in the area, went to a private high school a couple miles south of Coolidge when she was a kid. That school has varsity and JV soccer teams, field hockey teams, lacrosse teams, and cross country teams for girls. Coolidge has none of those.
But, Coolidge has a woman football coach. So all's square, right, Michelle Rhee?
(And, sorry, DCPS, cheerleading IS NOT a sport in the eyes of the law.)
The reality show that is Randolph's Coolidge experience makes its national television debut tonight, as ESPN broadcasts the season opening game with Carroll. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at Coolidge.