Why coach the other sex?
Julie Bell was an athlete growing up. She participated in basketball, swimming, and track and field at Rocori High School in Cold Spring, Minn. It wasn’t until her two eldest sons, Christopher and Eric, started playing youth soccer that Bell began seriously studying the game. She’d watch practices, learning how to run drills, how to interact with players, formations, tactics, everything. As the demand for soccer grew in the Little Falls area, a newly formed summer program needed a coach. Bell began coaching her sons past age 10 and stayed in that role as they got older.
Little Falls High started a club soccer team in 1997 to test the students’ interest. A middle-school Spanish teacher was in charge but wasn’t retained as the program gained varsity status. Up stepped Bell.
“I think I was the only one who applied, but I got the job, and the rest is history,” she says with a laugh. “I feel like sex shouldn’t deter your desire to coach either male or female. I started coaching (boys) because I had four boys. Part of me coaching was out of necessity because there was nobody else to do it, but this wasn’t for me, it was for the kids who wanted to play soccer. If I had girls, I might be coaching girls, but I can tell you there is a lot less drama with the boys though.”
Bell is constantly learning, even after all these years. She goes to coaches’ clinics and seminars. She is also a licensed referee. Anyone still want to question her credentials?
Having a woman — let alone your mom — as your coach might be a culture shock to some. It wasn’t to Eric Bell.
“When we were on the field, whether it was practice or in a game, it was ‘coach,’” Eric says. “Once we were home it was a different story, but since she coached us for so long, we were used to it.”
Sometimes he would get heckled — jokingly by his teammates, with a little more bite by opposition — because his mother was his coach. That didn’t affect his relationship with coach or mom.
Kevin Jordan is the Little Falls Community Schools activities director. He started his role approximately at the same time that Bell began coaching the varsity boys team. He said in their nearly 20 years together, there have been no issues with Bell being a woman coaching the opposite sex.
“I think her passion is first and foremost what everybody recognizes and respects,” Jordan says. “She’s what you want in a head coach — very organized, structured, knowledgeable and relates well to the kids and parents. Our boys’ soccer program is in good hands.”
Being a football head coach wasn’t on Natalie Randolph’s mind even though she spent most of her life around the game. She was a wide receiver for the D.C. Divas of the Women’s Football Alliance — a full-contact women’s football league — from 2003-08. By 2006, Randolph was teaching science at H.D. Woodson High School. She was eventually asked to help out with the football team after the coach learned of her playing experience. She assumed she would be doing office work, but she was introduced as the wide receivers coach on the first day of preseason practice.
After two seasons as an assistant coach at H.D. Woodson, it was suggested Randolph apply for the vacant head job at Coolidge. She turned it down not once, but twice. It wasn’t until a third time that Randolph finally gave in and applied. She developed an elaborate, color-coordinated and organized plan for the program, specifically focusing on academics, and presented her direction for the program and its student-athletes at her interview. Randolph was introduced as Coolidge head coach on March 12, 2010.
Coolidge lost Randolph’s debut game 28-0 to Archbishop Carroll. Afterward, Randolph was bombarded by members of the media. People were pinning microphones to her shirt. She was being told to speak to this person, that person, look into the camera. During her tenure at Coolidge, she was featured or profiled by ESPN, Good Morning America, CNN, The New York Times, NPR, NBC Nightly News, The Washington Post and countless other media outlets.
“I knew (my hiring) would be news, but I didn’t realize it would be that much,” she says. “I thought of myself as just ‘coach’. There were two different worlds — my reality of everyday teaching and coaching, and the outside world of me as ‘trailblazer’ that I was reminded of anytime I had to do an interview. It’s not that I didn’t see it, because it was there … it wasn’t a focus.
“I wasn’t doing it to be a trailblazer, that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t about me, it was about the kids. I was there to make sure they had a good high school football experience, make something of themselves, and become productive citizens of the world.”
Joshua Dyson was a sophomore fullback/middle linebacker for the Colts when Randolph took over the program. Like a few of his teammates, Dyson had his doubts with the new hire — not solely because she was a woman, but because they knew her as Ms. Randolph, science teacher.
“I went to her and said, ‘Do you know anything about football?’” recalls Dyson, 23. “She said, ‘Yeah, I do actually,’ and we had a mature conversation where she let us know what her goals for the team were and what her background was. As immature 16-year-olds, we were shocked.”
Dyson said Randolph created a tight-knit family atmosphere with her team. A preseason camping trip in Pennsylvania only solidified it — besides workouts and training, there were team-bonding exercises and an emphasis on family and respect. The trip became tradition; Dyson and a few former teammates even volunteered on it the summer after they graduated Coolidge. Randolph and some of her players would pack into her two-door Honda Civic to visit colleges. She would bring some players with her on trips when she had speaking engagements outside of Washington, D.C.
“To a lot of us she became a second mother,” Dyson says. “Everybody embraced it and loved what she brought — her uniqueness, her energy, and the family atmosphere she created. A lot of us are still close because of that. She exposed us inner-city kids to a lot of things outside of football and outside of D.C., so her focus wasn’t just on athletics, but on our grades and who we were as people.”