From A Free Lesson that was “Lots of Fun” to National Referee

July 23, 2014

Cheryl Mitchell

Cheryl Mitchell

Cheryl Mitchell is an early intervention services coordinator, helping kids achieve their potential by working with families to set up preschool special education and therapeutic services in the Scranton, PA region.


Nine years ago, Cheryl had a free judo lesson with Sensei Fred Murty in Greentown, PA, near Scranton.  She thought it was lots of fun, and so she signed up, certainly not foreseeing that she would someday be competing nationally or earning certification as a national referee.


In due course, she visited Wilmington, DE to refine her judo technique, where she met her eventual mentor, Sensei Dick Hugh, and learned from his expertise and critical eye. And it just so happened that he had been the National Chairman of the United States Judo, Inc. Referee Commission.

Sensei Dick Hugh

Sensei Dick Hugh


Cheryl had been competing locally and nationally, but decided that fighting “the kids” might result in injury.  Later explaining that it was not possible to work out with Dick Hugh without eventually refereeing, she began to learn the ropes of refereeing two years ago under Dick’s guidance, earning her national referee certification after being tested at the Liberty Bell Classic tournament in Philadelphia, PA in April of this year.


Shufu’s roving reporter caught up with Cheryl recently at the Virginia Open Championships at the Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, VA, where she was on the refereeing team at the annual event.


CRFM_20140607_2085RR: You’ve just recently risen to the level of National Referee.  What does that mean to you?

Mitchell: “Being a national referee means that I have to work to prove I’m where I should be.  I have to perfect everything.  I want to be the best ref out there, regardless of any level.  I want to be good because if you are going to do something, you need to be good and put your best foot forward.”


RR: When you started refereeing, did you think that you would someday be a National Referee, and possibly an CRFM_20140607_2112International Referee sometime in the future?

Mitchell: “No, I did it because I thought I should help out in some way, and I thought it was a way to stay in judo, keep active, and help out.  Because in some places there is a shortage of referees.  Not so much down here (in Virginia), but in Pennsylvania there is.”


CRFM_20140607_2096RR: How do you prepare for working as a referee?

Mitchell: “I read the rules, again and again. Dick (Hugh) has me going over old videos of refereeing that I’m supposed to criticize.  And so I do that – I read the rules, again and again, and then I referee alongside these videos.  I’ll pretend that the referee is not there, and I’ll referee the match.  Then I’ll compare what I’ve said to whoever is actually refereeing.


“I do this independently, but Dick has also suggested, strongly, that I do these things.  Also, before I even decided to do refereeing, Sue Oles (PJU-C Referee from Liberty Bell Judo in Philadelphia, PA) had said that before every tournament, she reads the rules again.  I thought it was a great idea to keep fresh and to keep on top of things.”


RR: What’s next for you as a competitor and referee?

Mitchell: “I still plan to compete at the Masters level at some point, most likely when the Nationals are a little closer to this area.  I don’t CRFM_20140607_2094think my competition is done, but I really don’t want to fight anyone who is younger than the age of my own children – that’s way too young.”


RR: What advice would you give the younger people who are considering adding refereeing to their judo skills?

Mitchell: “Find somebody in your club, or wherever, that you respect, and ask them to help you. Go out there, put yourself out there to referee, and listen to the criticism.  The criticism is not meant to bully you or make you feel bad, but it’s so you can improve.  If you go into it with that attitude, because you need to improve and you want to improve, criticism is very valuable.  You need to find a mentor.”



Cheryl still practices under Sensei Murty in Scranton, and at Scranton MMA with Tom McGuire.

(Shufu’s Roving Reporter occasionally uses the mysterious pseudonym of Chuck Medani)

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