Julie Mitchell Featured as 'Women in Sports' Panelist
Julie Mitchell persevered through periods of doubt and uncertainty to ultimately thrive in her current career as a collegiate women's basketball official.
Julie Mitchell persevered through periods of doubt and uncertainty to ultimately thrive in her current career as a collegiate women's basketball official.
Mitchell reached the Division II Elite Eight for the first time in her career this season.
Mitchell reached the Division II Elite Eight for the first time in her career this season.

Friday, April 18, 2014
by Evan O'Kelly, Media Relations Assistant

Ninth in a series

Previous Panelist Profiles
Lynda Goodrich, WWU (Jan. 24)
Kimberly Ford, NCAA (Jan. 31)
Chelsea Herman, Seattle University (Feb. 14)
Erin O'Connell, SPU (Feb. 28)
Katie Simons, SMU (March 20)
Tammy Dunn, SCSC (March 28)
Ariko Iso, OSU (April 4)
Cori Metzgar-Deacon, WOU (April 11)

PORTLAND, Ore. – When Julie Mitchell landed in Erie, Penn., in late March for the NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Elite Eight, she experienced a sense of accomplishment and realized one of her life-long dreams.

The experience was as black and white as the stripes running vertically along her referee jersey, but her career-long path to get there reflected uncertainty and consistent challenges. 

“My very first officiating experience was in the intramural leagues at Washington State, and that didn’t go very well,” Mitchell said. “Coming from there and going to my first Elite Eight this year was a really cool thing. That definitely stands out.”

The stepping stones in between Mitchell’s first experiences officiating at the intramural level and reaching the crux of the Division II basketball world this season have consisted of all levels of the game. 

Most recently, Mitchell has spent time officiating Great Northwest Athletic Conference women’s basketball games, frequenting the floors at Sam Carver Gym in Bellingham, Marcus Pavilion in Lacey and many others across the league.

Next month, Mitchell will serve as a panelist at the GNAC-hosted Women in Sports Career Seminar, on Saturday, May 17 at the Washington Convention and Trade Center in Seattle.

“I would advise someone to get involved in some way with something that they love,” Mitchell commented on advice she would pass along to young individuals aspiring to attain a career in sports. “If you’re able to do that, chances are you will stick with it and it will be a long term or even lifelong thing.”

For Mitchell, her career has been a lifelong realization of her passion, but her journey has not been one without trial and error along the way.

“After my first experience officiating at Washington State I swore that I would never do it again,” Mitchell commented on a side job she took on while completing her communications degree at WSU. “It was a horrible experience.”

After turning in her stripes and exploring the working world as a young college graduate, Mitchell received a tip from a friend who had a day job and worked as a referee on the side. 

“My friend told me to give it another shot, so I started taking some training classes,” Mitchell said. “I started to find out that I kind of had a knack for refereeing when I was around 24, and I just went from there.”

Mitchell began picking up high school games and soon after moved into the community college ranks. Remaining close to her Northwest roots, Mitchell, a Franklin High School graduate from Seattle, quickly advanced to refereeing small college contests.

The presence of women officials was relatively scarce when Mitchell was starting out in the early 1990’s, but the framework had been laid for motivated young referees like Mitchell to build a career in the industry.

“There were enough pioneers that were female officials at the time that I received a ton of support,” said Mitchell. “These people had experienced a lot of rough times and really wanted to make sure that people my age got cultivated as opposed to held down.”

While Mitchell cites many of the women referees who she worked with early on as inspirational, it was one of her male mentors who had and continues to have the greatest impact on her career.

“Stu Gorski was one of the first people to show incredible support for me,” Mitchell said about the longtime basketball referee and evaluator. “I remember him being at a men’s camp at Western Washington, and it was the first time that females had signed up to participate. He immediately recognized that and wanted to make sure that the four of us had a positive experience.”

Today, Gorski serves as the coordinator of officials for the GNAC in both men’s and women’s basketball. “Julie is one of my Cadillacs in terms of officials,” Gorski said. “She is someone who I hold the highest respect for because she is such a quality person.”

Since her career has been centered around working closely with female athletes, Mitchell has taken notice to the cultural changes and shifts that have occurred in the world of women’s sports.

“The players are getting a lot more opportunities, coaching, and development, and they have gotten significantly better,” Mitchell commented on the progression of women’s basketball players. “I get to see the end product of that when I am on the floor, and that really makes me happy. It is easier to officiate a better played game.”

In addition to the growth of women’s basketball, Mitchell has also noticed an increase in viewership and coverage across many professional women’s sports.

“Women’s tennis is another sport that has really grown, especially in major tournaments,” Mitchell said. “Seeing that coverage grow was one of the major things I noticed that was a positive and allowed our country to have a better appreciation for women in athletics.” 

Tennis is another sport that holds a close place to Mitchell’s heart, as it was instrumental in developing the passion that led to her current career.

“I remember playing tennis as a kid and being inspired by watching Arthur Ashe,” Mitchell said of the one-time world No. 1 men’s tennis player. “It was really cool seeing a tennis player of color at that time, because you didn’t see too much of that.”

While Mitchell was watching Ashe on the tennis court and her favorite New York Knicks like Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe on the hardwood, it was her father Charles Mitchell who fostered her own athletic skills growing up.

“My father was a professional football player, and he took me onto the playground when I was seven or eight,” Mitchell said. “He was definitely my main influence and helped me become a two-sport athlete. I liked watching the pro teams that he liked, and his favorite players became my favorites as well.”

The exposure to sports that Charles Mitchell provided to his daughter seemed only natural considering his professional background, but his ultimate influence ended up reaching far deeper than competitive athletics.

“Officiating has allowed me to stay close to basketball, and it’s the game that I really love and grew up with,” Mitchell said. “As I have stayed in officiating longer, I realized that I love the people that I work with.”

These invaluable connections Mitchell has developed with her coworkers are what stand out as the highlights of her career.

“You get some of your best friends in life through officiating, and to me that is clearly what is most rewarding,” said Mitchell. “Another thing is the role I have assumed of helping to develop and provide the same level of support to today’s young officials. This profession should be and is a pay it forward avocation, and watching the development of people that I have helped is one of the best feelings to me.”

When Mitchell serves on the panel at the Women in Sports Career Seminar, she hopes to inspire a sentiment of passion and belief that crafting a career toward something you love is the key to happiness. 

“One thing that officiating teaches us is that you have to do things you are uncomfortable with in order to grow, and at some level you need to have the courage to fail forward,” Mitchell said. “If you want to progress you need that courage, and the key is to stick with it and stay involved with something you love.”

For more information on the Women in Sports Career Seminar, visit the "related links" section of this article. To register for the event, click here.