But Ms. Randolph is not the first woman to coach a high school football team. As I recount in my book Last Team Standing, World War II labor shortages allowed women to make inroads in many previously all-male fields - including the resoundingly virile world of football:
In the fall of 1943, Bell Township High School in rural western Pennsylvania, apparently unable to find a qualified and willing male, hired a 22-year-old gym teacher named Pauline Rugh to coach the football team. Rugh was a recent graduate of Penn State, and she returned to her alma mater for a quick tutorial.”Let’s hope Natalie Randolph’s season ends more happily!
“It is physically impossible to teach you all about football in three days,” Penn State coach Bob Higgins lectured her, “but we’ll get you started and then depend on you to ask questions as new problems arise.” In newspaper stories Rugh was invariably described as “comely.” Typical was what Red Smith, later a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist, wrote in the Philadelphia Record: “As far as local records show, Miss Rugh is the first she-coach of a recognized team of males in the history of the sport. What’s more, she is reliably described as a tasty dish, a blonde with a couple of eyes like this, O O, and a throbbing contralto voice.”
Rugh seemed uncomfortable with all the attention. She did her best to avoid the reporters and “picture men” who camped on her doorway. Yet her attempts to shun publicity only stirred more interest in her story. “This,” noted the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Havey Boyle, “probably, is a technique that works in other feminine adventures, too, marriage being one of the more notable.”
Bell Township High School’s wartime experiment, however noble, failed. The team lost all eight games it played and was outscored 219-13 in the process.
UPDATE: When I was writing the book back in 2005-6, I searched high and low for Ms. Rugh but was unable to locate her. I just Googled her name and it turns out she passed away last year. Here's a very nice obituary.