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Lesbian excels as sports official
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2012-11-20

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The tattoo on her right ankle—a zebra with a whistle around its neck—is a fitting tribute to how Julie Colwell has meshed her passion into her profession.

Julie Colwell, 52, an open lesbian who lives in north suburban Lincolnwood and has been a teacher at Evanston Township High School (ETHS) for 30 years, also is a high-ranking, top-tiered (certified) amateur sports official in the Illinois.

Colwell officiates multiple sports, including volleyball (boys and girls), basketball (girls) and softball (fast- and slow-pitch). She is one of the few females who has officiated key high school state tournament games in volleyball (boys and girls) and basketball (girls).

Sports officiating at high-level high school games/matches is male-dominated, but that hasn't slowed Colwell's drive and determination to excel on the fields of play.

"Officiating is all about customer service, social relationships," said Colwell, who was born in Fargo, N.D., and was a two-sport athlete (field hockey and softball) at Western Illinois University. She still plays softball and golfs, and recently picked up running. Colwell previously has played organized basketball and volleyball.

Her officiating career also has also led Colwell to the court for women's college basketball games. Plus, Colwell has umpired both the predominantly male Gay Softball World Series and the Women's Softball World Series.

"Being able to umpire my peers at the highest level is great, and I really cherish those weeks," of the World Series, she said. Colwell was in San Diego in August for the women's Amateur Sports Alliance of North America (ASANA) annual World Series.

She has been a softball umpire for 12 years—and an officiating teacher for nine years, literally.

Colwell teaches a sports officiating class at Evanston, which has received extensive local mainstream media coverage over the years.

"I feel strong that female athletes need to see female officials," said Colwell, who is a mentor to several younger, up-and-coming officials.

Often, she brings tales from her officiating career into the classroom.

"As I tell the kids [in class,] sports officiating is a great way to make some money and give back to sports," she said. "I've had many highlights from the sports officiating class. One was a student who went on to the University of Arizona. He wrote me [from college] to say that he was hired to officiate [the school's] intramural sports. He was the only freshman hired; the others were juniors and seniors. Another time, a University of Michigan student told me that he was [assigned] to umpire high school freshmen baseball games—I could see the pride in his face as he was telling me."

Colwell also teaches health-wellness education at Evanston, which includes discussions on sex education, nutrition, drug use, stress management and more. About 20 fellow ETHS teachers are her former students. One of her former students is going to be a grandmother.

So, does it feel like 30 years?

No, she said. "I don't feel like I'm 52," Colwell said.

Colwell wears a No H8 bracelet in the classroom and has never hidden her sexual orientation. Being out has never been an issue, she said.

Colwell, in fact, started Evanston's gay-straight alliance about 15 years ago.

"If kids come up and ask questions, they get me; I have my heart on my sleeve, so they get an open and honest answer," she said.

Her health education class includes discussions on bullying.

"I firmly believe in equality across the board," Colwell said. "Part of our teacher training the first two days [of classes] included talking about LGBT issues, and how do you deal with that in the hallway and in the classroom.

"Thankfully, our culture at Evanston Township is very inclusive.

"I think every school has some issues [on the LGBT front;] that's probably how it always will be. Explaining same-sex relationships to some—students and faculty—can and probably always will be a challenge."

Colwell, who enjoys traveling and attending concerts in her limited free time, is now a Board member for the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association (CMSA).

"Make your bucket list, and do your bucket list," she said of advice she offers all.


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