George Mason University

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Mason’s Kate Dunn is a pioneer for women football coaches

May 1, 2018   /   by John Hollis

Kate Dunn, second from right, spoke on a panel at a "Breaking Gender Roles: Women Coaching Men" in April. Photo courtesy of Ibrahim Ahmad/Fourth Estate.

George Mason University’s Kate Dunn had just begun high school when she first realized that coaching football was what she was always meant to do.

Her passion for the game runs deep.

“I love the teamwork and the dedication that is required,” she said, “and that you never know everything. You can always get better.”

Dunn joined a panel of accomplished women who coached men in sports during the “Breaking Gender Roles: Women Coaching Men” Symposium on April 18. Hosted by Mason’s Division of Sport, Recreation and Tourism and the Center for Sport Management, the panel also included Victoria Sun, the director of basketball of operations for the George Washington University men’s basketball team; Natalie Randolph, the senior women’s administrator and Title IX coordinator for the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education and the former head football coach at Coolidge High School; and Mason assistant track and field coach Sarana Hyatt.

Dunn’s path to football began with some harrowing moments in middle school. Now 20 and finishing her first year as a Sport Management major at Mason, Dunn was just 13 when she began fainting 30 to 40 times per day. Her doctors had difficulty diagnosing the problem, but after an MRI revealed that her cerebral tonsils that control balance and motor skills were malformed, she underwent brain surgery in July 2012.

Her mother, Amanda Dunn, introduced her daughter to football after the surgery to provide an outlet where she might not feel alone all the time. It was a match made in heaven.

“That was the moment it clicked,” Kate Dunn said.

It wasn’t long before she became a huge fan of then-Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and began envisioning herself quarterbacking a football team.

That never happened while attending McLean High School, so Dunn turned her attention to coaching instead. She quickly became a student of the game, immersing herself in as many football manuals as she could.

“She’s always been very persistent, very determined,” Amanda Dunn said.

Kate Dunn’s first coaching break came in May 2013 with the McLean Youth Football League, as an assistant coach working with the team quarterbacks. She later began volunteering her services for the Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Georgetown University football team.

Dunn became the first woman to coach in a college football game when she served as an offensive coordinator in the 2015 USA College Football Bowl game that featured the nation’s top Division III players. The College Football Hall of Fame later recognized her after she guided her team’s offense to 21 third-quarter points in Jackson, Miss.

Dunn now interns with the Hoyas, serving as an offensive assistant who mentors the team’s quarterbacks under the supervision of head coach Rob Sgarlata.

At the symposium, Dunn offered advice for other women considering coaching men in sports.

“It’s important to remember that it’s not your job to change their opinion of women in general,” she said. “It’s your job to make them change their opinion of you.”

Sgarlata said that hasn’t been a problem for Dunn so far.

“It takes a certain ‘it’ factor to put yourself in a rare situation like being a female coach in college football,” Sgarlata said. “But it’s more about her knowledge of the game and her ability to connect with people. Kate has those qualities.”

Dunn hopes to someday coach in the NFL. In the meantime, however, she maintained a 4.0 GPA last fall as a full-time student who also balances her academic and football commitments with a part-time job.

“I love what I’m doing,” Dunn said, “so it’s worth it to me.”