Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.

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Leveling the field

When renowned US Gymnastics Team Coach Bela Karolyi carried the injured Kerry Strug to the gold medal podium at the 1996 Olympics, there was not much talk about gender as the burly male coach hugged his diminutive female champions.

When the new Coolidge High Football Coach Natalie Randolph stood on the press podium with her players last week, gender was Topic A as the diminutive woman shattered the pigskin ceiling in the company of so many burly men.

Men have coached women at all levels of sport across the decades before and after Title IX, the 1972 law that opened so many new athletic opportunities for women. However, even now, nearly 40 years after that landmark legislation, women's athletic and ultimate leadership horizons remain limited.

Coach Randolph is making history as one of the first women to coach a men's football team at the high school level or beyond. There hasn't been so much excitement about a woman's power relationship with a football team since fictional owner Cameron Diaz strolled through the Miami Sharks' locker room in "Any Given Sunday."

Women have long tried to break through the formidable American bias against women's involvement in this physically violent sport. Some girls have challenged high school football gender rules and succeeded in winning spots, most often as punters. Some women have tried to break into the ranks of referees. Natalie Randolph has been part of the DC Divas, the local team that is part of the women's professional football league. Her experience as a player and coach put her in the right position for consideration as a head coach.

But women's opportunities to play football are rare, and without real experience on the field, few individuals -- male or female -- can hope to snag coaching positions. In football as in many other sports, knowing how to play the game is essential to moving up into management later in life.

Too many women remain on the sidelines when it comes to playing the game -- whether the name of the game is banking or finance or technology or surgery or higher education or high stakes national politics.

Data about women's leadership in major professions belies the common myth that women now have a level playing field. In fact, women are still fewer than 25% of the top leaders in media, medicine, law and higher education. Debbie Yow, athletic director at the University of Maryland, is a rare female executive in Division I collegiate sports.

Natalie Randolph's position in the history of women's advancement will ultimately depend on her ability to coach the Coolidge team successfully -- success as measured not just by the "W-L" columns, but also by the academic and personal success she fosters in the students for whom she is now responsible.

Randolph is running onto a playing field that is dramatically tilted against her -- more will be expected of her because she's a pioneer. And yet, she's likely to encounter more automatic rejection because of her gender. (Just look at some of the online comments in stories about her -- ugly!)

She has no female role models to emulate; she must become the exemplar for others. If she is successful, she will tilt the playing field a bit more toward level for the next generation of women coaches. Seeing her pride and determination upon taking this position, I am sure that she would also say, with Susan B. Anthony, that "Failure is not an option."

Next fall, I'll be rooting for the Coolidge Colts!

By Patricia McGuire  |  March 18, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  The glass ceiling Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Go out there and win | Next: Ability, heart and teamwork

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