Soon after collecting their medals on the podium at the Grand Masters Judo World Championships in Miami, Bert Mackey and Dr. Sandy North were called front-and-center over the loud speakers for a different reason.
The International Judo Federation honored and awarded these two men with a plaque and applause for their tireless devotion to the development of masters-level judo in the world.
The timing could not have been more eloquent. Mackey and North had just taken silver and gold medals respectively at the tournament they’d worked so hard to build and support.
There to watch North was his mom, Joyce North of Pembrook Pines, Florida. “My mother hasn’t seen me fight in 40 years,” said North, who made Hollywood, Florida, his home 19 years ago. “She came here like a trooper, got a seat, saw some old friends, got a chance to see all my fights, win my gold with an ippon. Then she saw me win this award… That’s nice.”
North recalled years of hard work to build these tournaments, “arranging brackets, late meetings on a Friday night, making it happen,” North said.
The reward, he described, has been supporting a sport that can begin for someone at the age of 7 or 8 and “then continuing into their 80s. That’s unheard of,” North said.
North has been a lifelong competitor and figures that he has attended all the IJF Grand Masters since the first, predecessor tournament, the World Masters, first began in Canada more than a decade ago.
“After I realized what the award was, it was an incredible honor,” said Mackey. “I am kind of at a loss for words to explain … It’s quite an honor to get this from such a high level.”
Mackey hails from the Northwest of the United States where he has supported programs not only for the masters of the sport but the youth, building the foundation of programs that fostered elites like 2012 Olympians Travis Stevens and Bronze Medalist Marti Malloy. As a young boy of 10 or 11 years, Mackey was one of the original members of Budokan Judo in Seattle in 1968.
The award was presented to Mackey and Dr. North by Andrei Bondor, Director of the IJF Veteran Commission from Romania.
“Bert Mackey and Sandy North have all these years been big supporters of USA Judo, but most important, they have dedicated the last eight years of their life to growing the masters movement in the United States,” said Jose Rodriguez, USA Judo’s CEO. “Every time we have a national championship, they are always there. They are always there for the athletes, and there for USA Judo.”
Rodriguez said, “When the IJF approached us and said they wanted to award this plaque to two people in the United States who have helped the masters movement, we decided without hesitation that it should be Bert Mackey and Sandy North. They are exemplary of the people in this organization who make programs and projects like this successful.”
So the Grand Masters in Miami was the culmination not only of training for their competition there, but also hard work building the tournament.
Both North and Mackey fought in the M6 age group, 55 to 59 years old. North took gold in the 66 kg. division and Mackey claimed silver in the 73 kg. division.
The tournament was reviewed as a huge success for USA Judo and master’s competition. Nearly 900 athletes registered for the Grand Masters this year from nearly 50 different nations, some with huge turnouts like France and Brazil, each represented by nearly 80 fighters.
“Kudos to USA Judo for putting on such a beautiful event,” said North, who lives in Hollywood, Florida, and trains at Budokan Judo Club in Hialeah FL, which has been a foundry of judo champions and Olympians.
Set at the luxurious Doral Golf Resort & Spa a short distance from Miami’s legendary beaches, “Athletes will not forget the experience that they had here,” North said.
Speaking from the venue floor, North commented, “It’s incredible. You don’t have it in any other spot,” fighters in their 70s and 80s who have been training since children, competition with a multitude of past Olympians, “warriors here with their cauliflower ears.” Year after year, the tournament has grown, competitors and their families return to find their old friends and new ones. “It’s a big family,” North said.