"I always wonder if I'm seeing the same match as my colleagues. You dread being out of line in the scoring, but you've got to have the confidence to call it as you see it."
-- Judge Patricia Jarman
WASHINGTON -- A college professor, a former fighter and a health care arbitrator will be judging tomorrow night's heavyweight title match at RFK Stadium between champion Riddick Bowe and challenger Jesse Ferguson.
All three judges also happen to be black women.
Reportedly, there have been title matches held overseas in which three women served as officials. But Jean Williams of Atlantic City, Patricia Jarman of Las Vegas, and Sheila Harmon-Martin of Virginia are the first three females to judge a heavyweight championship bout together.
"It's a real honor," said Williams, who became enamored of fighting as a teen-ager when she ventured into a boxing gym to learn how to ward off her bullying brother and the girls who taunted her in school.
"It isn't just that we're all black," Williams said. "It's that we're women, and it's a rough road to travel. This should open the door for a lot of other women interested in sports officiating."
The three women found their way into boxing by different paths.
"My first ambition was to become a ringside commentator," said Jarman, a Las Vegas native who serves as an arbitrator for the Nevada State Commission of Hospital Patients. "I'd done some TV reporting, but I got hooked on boxing after watching the Larry Holmes-Muhammad Ali fight in 1980."
A conversation with veteran referee Davey Pearl convinced Jarman that her quickest entree into boxing would be as a judge for the Nevada Athletic Commission. But it proved anything but easy.
"Ten days after I applied," she recalled, "they declared a moratorium on the way officials had been hired and changed all the guidelines. It took me 3 1/2 years to get a license, but first I had to pass an oral and written exam." Before she was approved, Jarman attended numerous casino fights and scored informally with the official judges, turning her cards into then-commissioner Harold Buck.
"I found that I was pretty much in agreement with the decisions," she said.
Jarman is now one of the best known and respected of the 11 women who are sanctioned judges. She has worked 49 title fights in 24 countries.
Her scariest experience came in judging the Jorge Paez-Calvin Grove featherweight title fight held in a bull ring in Mexicali, Mexico, in 1989.
"I'd taken a pillow from my hotel to sit on during the fight," she said. "But a lot of the Mexican fans were drunk by the time Paez knocked out Grove in the 11th round, and I used the pillow to protect my head when they started throwing bottles at the ring."
Williams, who has been fighting her own battles since her teen-age days, has never felt intimidated working in boxing.
"When I first showed up a boxing gym, a lot of guys resented it," she said. "I told them, 'If you beat me up, I won't come back.' But no one ever chased me out of the gym."
When she first started judging amateur fights, several boxing coaches "jumped down my throat. I'd yell back, 'Get out of my face,' and that would end it."
Williams, who has worked 51 pro fights since 1989, plans to continue judging "until I can't see well and won't be able to judge a fight fairly. Fighters work too hard to be cheated out of a decision by a poor judge."
Harmon-Martin, a political science professor at the University of District of Columbia, calls boxing "my second profession," but has a difficult time explaining to her family and friends why she moonlights as a ring official.
"A lot of them don't believe it until they actually see me working a fight," said Harmon-Martin, who was a judge in New York in February when Bowe stopped Michael Dokes in one round in his first title defense.
"I was always a big boxing fan, dating back to the days Don Dunphy broadcast the Friday nights from Madison Square Garden," she said. "I got to meet two of the first women judges -- Carol Castellano and Eva Shane -- and they both encouraged me to try it."
Harmon-Martin's debut as a ring official came after Cora Martin became the first woman commissioner in Washington in 1980.
"Cora wanted to get more women involved in boxing, and I was one of the first to apply," she said.
Jarman probably speaks for all three judges when she says, "I don't want to be remembered as 'a lady judge.' My goal is to be considered one of the best boxing judges in the world. Period."