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Catching up with a coach-turned-ref at Rutherford High School

Tuesday's officiating assignment was a high school girls freshman/JV doubleheader in Rutherford, New Jersey with a partner with a tie to Anne Donovan.

Of all the banners proclaiming athletic excellence at Rutherford, yours truly finds this one especially significant.
Of all the banners proclaiming athletic excellence at Rutherford, yours truly finds this one especially significant.
Photo by Ray Floriani.

RUTHERFORD, NJ - Rutherford is not only a mile from home but a favorite place to work. The girls programs are well coached and the people from Athletic Director Dave Frazier on down are very cooperative and accommodating.

My partner today, Cheryl Bott-Melfa, has a tie in to Anne Donovan: both were coached by legendary Rose Battaglia. Donovan played for Battaglia at Paramus Catholic (NJ) High School. Cheryl was recruited by Battaglia and played at Iona College. Battaglia left during Bott's playing days so she finished up with Fran Clementi running the program. Cheryl later coached at Rutherford and most recently Secaucus. Family life necessitated a step down.

"Having kids and teaching full time made it tough to continue to be a head coach," she said. "You come home from practice, have to grade papers and try to watch some film."

Not to mention juggle household and family duties.

"When I gave up coaching I felt officiating would be a nice way to stay in the game plus make a little extra money."

She works mostly girls games as the schedule goes.

Know that working with Cheryl would be great. When she ran the Rutherford girls league in the 90's we were short an official one night. She borrowed a spare shirt from me, got a whistle and did a very good job. Now in her second year, I was certain she would be better than a lot of second year officials. Playing high school ball and Division I plus coaching, she has the advantage of the innate 'feel' for the game. In addition, as the other women officiating partners I work with, Cheryl hustles and works hard.

Bernards 43, Rutherford 33

The freshman game features two strong clubs facing each other. Bernards has one loss, to Holy Angels Academy. Rutherford has a few but is enjoying a very strong year nonetheless. After a small early deficit Bernards takes the lead and is ahead by six at halftime. They have size but more important, size with skill - their 5-11 types can run the floor, put the ball on the floor and finish.

Rutherford presses early but pulls it off as Bernards breaks and scores against it. On their end the visitors use a 1-3-1 zone on occasion. The zone and size allow them to clog passing lanes and make offensive life more difficult for the Lady Bulldogs.

Game ends, a smooth one and the respective coaches meet to confirm the 'return' game next week at Bernards.

We have time between games so Cheryl and I trade stories and discuss officiating in general. She starred here in the 80's with a prolific scorer Jodi Porro. One of the better programs around, Rutherford never won a state sectional during Bott's playing days always running into an outstanding program from Harrison (NJ).

We also discussed the huge leap from high school to Division I in college. Too many players today underestimate just how much of a difference there is and the commitment needed just to compete at D I.

I always enjoyed working for Cheryl when she was coaching - she was very fair with us. By her own admission there were some very fine points of the game and rules she "never knew about before I got into officiating."

Rutherford 45, Manchester 17

The JV contest is one sided. After both teams went scoreless for the first four minutes, Rutherford takes over establishing a double digit lead and going into halftime ahead 21-7.

The Rutherford coach, Ed Guy Jr., coached the boys JV here before switching to the girls side. He spoke of the enjoyment of coaching the girls who are a lot more cooperative and receptive to instruction minus the attitudes boys can tend to show. Guy presses early but to no surprise pulls it off with the lead established. The Lady Bulldogs show solid ball movement, have a few shooters but overall show a very good basketball IQ. They make that extra pass and simply play very well as a unit.

Again, another contest without a problem or complaint of any sort. Later, get the chance to talk with Guy and Rutherford varsity coach Danica Miller. Turns out Guy's father, Ed Sr., a very good athlete, was a high school classmate of mine. I told Miller jokingly she made me feel old as I first met her officiating her seventh grade games. She went on to star at Rutherford and College of New Jersey before 'coming home', doing a nice job at the alma mater.

Say good bye and best wishes to Cheryl. She will stay around to watch some of the Rutherford-Manchester game. I am off to cover Queen of Peace-Lyndhurst, the next town over. A nice finish to an enjoyable doubleheader of officiating with an excellent partner.