- The Washington Times - Friday, November 27, 2009

When the fighters at the Charles Houston Recreation Center in Alexandria see Michelle Myers come into the gym, they know they are in for a workout.

“My fighters love her,” said Kay Karoma, the pro fighter who also oversees an amateur team at the center. “They know when she is here, we are sparring today.”

That’s because Myers is the law in the ring - a boxing referee, one of the few women in that role.

Myers, a retired Naval officer, hones her skills with the amateur fighters at the center. But she has been the third “man” in the ring for a number of professional fight cards in the District and Virginia.

“I hang the credentials [from fights] in my office, and when people see them they ask me if I like boxing,” said Myers, who works in the security business. “I say, ‘I’m a referee.’ They ask, ‘For women fights?’ I say, ‘No, I do men and women fights.’ They are usually surprised.”

That’s because it is such a rare sight. There are just a handful of women across the country working as active referees in both the professional and amateur ranks. After all, in a sport in which tough guys - sometimes big, tough guys - try to knock each other out, you don’t expect to see a woman in the ring as the enforcer.

“I’ve even done Toughman contests here in Virginia,” Myers said. “Those are hard to referee. It gets pretty crazy - and I did the heavyweights. Sometimes with the big guys I would go in and break them up and they say, ‘Yes, ma’am.’ I think, ‘Whatever.’ ”

Said veteran local referee Joe Cooper, who has helped train Myers: “She doesn’t get intimidated.”

Myers doesn’t come from a family with a boxing tradition or anything else that would explain her determination to break into one of the most male-dominated jobs in sports.

“I don’t know where the love for boxing comes from,” Myers said. “No one in my family boxed. But I grew up watching it on television and always loved it. I watched Mike Tyson and then Lennox Lewis. Roy Jones, he is from Pensacola [Fla.], where I am from.

“I was a tomboy when I was a kid and got into a lot of fights,” Myers said. “Maybe that is where it came from.”

She does come from a Navy family - her father was in the service, and they lived overseas before he retired in Pensacola. Myers joined the Navy and was stationed in the D.C. area when she retired.

Myers remained a boxing fan but had more than a passing interest. She visited the boxing gym at Henderson Hall in Alexandria in the fall of 2005 and asked how she could get on the inside of the fight game. She studied how to judge a fight and passed the test to be an amateur judge and a timekeeper as well. But Myers is not the pencil-pushing type, even when at ringside determining who wins or loses a fight. She wanted more.

“I was judging fights for about half a year when I decided I wanted to try to be a referee,” Myers said. “I started working as a locker room inspector and corner inspector on pro cards in Virginia. I kept watching referees more and more, and then I wanted to do that. I thought it looked like more fun to be in the ring, so I talked to Joe Cooper and he started training me. We would meet here twice a week, and he would train me how to referee.”

She was eventually licensed by USA Boxing and started working amateur fights. She then got licensed as a referee for professional bouts by the Virginia State Athletic Commission and the District.

“The District gave me my first chance at a pro fight on a show at Howard University,” Myers said. “I’ve done about seven pro fights, and more and more I am getting women’s fights. But I have no problem doing men’s fights. Nobody gives me a hard time. What they do is everybody tries to help you, tell you what you did right or wrong. Everybody is willing to help you and offer their opinions, whether you like it or not. These are experienced people, so you listen to them.”

One of her highlights was refereeing a bout on the charity “Fight Night” show at the Washington Hilton in 2008. “Michael Buffer introduced me,” she said. “That was like a dream come true.”

A woman was about to referee a rumble.

c Listen to “The Sports Fix,” co-hosted by Thom Loverro and Kevin Sheehan, from noon to 2 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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