Beecher Seniors Lead 3-Peat Attempt

March 23, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

EAST LANSING – The day after Flint Beecher won the Class C boys basketball championship in 2013, coach Mike Williams went to watch an eighth-grade game.

He saw Levane Blake get a steal and a dunk, Malik Ellison pull up for a 3-pointer. “I just remember seeing the chemistry between them,” Williams said. “And I thought to myself, I think we’ll be going back down to Lansing a few more times.”

Now seniors, Blake, Ellison and Jordan Roland have a chance to finish their Beecher careers among the most successful players in the program’s storied history.

The Bucs have won seven MHSAA titles, and those three captains have been part of two straight – and earned an opportunity to three-peat with a 76-68 victory over Detroit Edison Public School Academy in Thursday’s first Semifinal at the Breslin Center.

“We feel more poised this year. It’s our senior year, and we want to go out with a bang,” Roland said.

“It’s our senior year, and I won’t be able to wear this jersey anymore,” Blake added, “or play on the court with my team, or lead the young guys. So we work every day in practice, go hard, hard, hard, and Coach Mike pushes us.”

Beecher (22-5) will play Grand Rapids Covenant Christian in Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. Final. The Bucs not only have won the last two Class C titles, but four of the last five.

After watching these seniors star as eighth graders that day in 2013, Williams knew they’d be on varsity as freshmen. Ellison, Roland and Blake all joined the varsity that next winter; Ellison and Blake started as sophomores in the 2015 championship win, and all three started in last year’s title game.

Ellison scored a game-high 28 points and added seven rebounds and seven assists Thursday, while Roland and Blake both scored 10 points, Roland also grabbing seven rebounds and the 6-foot-7 Blake blocking six shots.

Edison (14-12), in its first Semifinal after winning its first Regional title last week, fought back-and-forth for the lead through the first five minutes of the second quarter until Beecher took a one-point lead on a Roland bucket with 3:17 to go in the first half, and never gave up the advantage again.

“We know Malik is a tough little guard, and I think the thing you never can put a hand on is a guy coming up here playing in three state championships games,” DEPSA coach Brandon Neely said. “I think the advantage he had is he just understood how the game would go. … You know that those guys are never going to get rattled. They’ve been in so many wars that when they come to battle, they’re just loose; it’s just another game for them."

Senior guard Jamal Keesee led the Pioneers with 21 points and 12 rebounds, while junior center Deante Johnson had 17 points and nine rebounds. Junior guard Gary Solomon added 15 points, six rebounds and four assists, and junior guard Pierre Mitchell, Jr., had 10 points and also six rebounds and four assists.

Beecher freshman guard Jalen Terry had 15 points as his team’s second-leading scorer, something that spoke to what Williams has emphasized to his successful seniors this winter. He put it on them to play major roles in bringing along the next generation, to work at both continuing the Bucs’ legacy and setting it up for the future as well, just as others did to assist them at the start of their careers.

“I’m just going to go out there and play hard for them,” Terry said. “They gave me everything they’ve got. I’m going to give them everything I’ve got.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Flint Beecher’s Malik Ellison drives hard to the basket during Thursday’s first Class C Semifinal. (Middle) The Bucs score two more on the way to earning their third straight championship game berth.

Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

April 13, 2023

Delonda Little was already a trailblazer to many before this year’s MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals.

Greater DetroitBut what happened last month at Breslin Center made her even more of one on a statewide level.

A referee and assigner for 20 years in the Detroit area, Little is a female boys and girls basketball official who mentors both male and female referees – no matter the gender or level, as she officiates high school and college games.

Officials often go to Little for guidance, direction and assignments, which has made her respected for years throughout Metro Detroit in the prep basketball community. Then, her status as a trailblazer grew even more.

Little was assigned as an official for the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis, and she became the first female referee to officiate an MHSAA Boys Basketball Final since Traverse City’s Barb Beckett 1995.

“It was a very good feeling to know I was the one selected,” said Little, who officiated the Final with Matt Olson and Zach Porritt.  

In fact, while attending a Semifinal game the Friday before the Final, Little received a phone call from an area code she didn’t recognize.

She answered, and it was Beckett.

“At first I didn’t know the name,” Little said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t know you, but that’s fine.’”

Beckett then explained she was the first female referee to be assigned a Boys Basketball Final, and just wanted to offer support to Little.

At that point, Little became excited and thankful she answered the call.

“It was very nice to hear from her because she wanted to reach out and if not pass the torch, to congratulate me,” Little said.

Little, 51, said she found out she was going to be refereeing the Division 3 boys championship game just before the start of the postseason when she received an email from the MHSAA.

“I’m looking at the email and I’m like, boys?” Little said. “I was shocked.”

But she was shocked in a good way, and obviously excited for the honor.

Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.Little didn’t find out until a couple of days before the St. Francis/Beecher contest that she would be officiating that specific championship game, but the Monday of boys championship week was when she really started to receive congratulations from friends and colleagues.

That’s when an article came out in the Detroit News detailing her selection, which led to countless calls, texts and congratulatory messages on social media.

“I couldn’t even (keep up with the comments),” she said. “That’s how overwhelming the actual tags were. It came from all across the state with officials, men and women, because I do women’s college (games). Some of the college ladies were reaching out. I was getting all the hoopla before the game.”

Little said she normally doesn’t get nervous for games, but not having some nerves became a bit harder once so many people knew of her achievement.

However, she settled into a normal routine quickly once the game started.

“I wanted to get it done, get it over with and do well,” she said.

Little did do well, which is no surprise to everyone who knew her before she officiated on the boys championship stage.

It was just another feather in the cap for Little, who in 2016 became the first woman to officiate a boys Detroit Public School League championship game.

“Delonda is one of the top officials in the Detroit area, and our staff doesn’t look at Delonda as a female working a boys game – we see one of the top officials in Detroit working a basketball game,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “There are females officiating in the NBA and female officials in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The aspect that made Delonda’s selection for this MHSAA championship game nearly unique will soon be the norm at all levels of athletics.”     

Little graduated from Detroit Osborn in 1989 and starred on the basketball court at Wayne State, earning induction into WSU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.

Her day job is as an officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections, but her passion is officiating. She’s been an MHSAA-registered official for basketball for two decades and also was registered for volleyball for four years. This past fall she registered for football for the first time.

“I get something from it because it keeps me in shape, I love the people I work with and I like the kids,” Little said. “You are always teaching, and I like training the newer officials. I just enjoy it. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t refereeing.”

Going forward, Little hopes her championship game assignment will now be an inspiration for other female referees.

“There aren’t very many women who would like to work boys basketball or feel comfortable,” Little said. “If that’s something they desire, I’m hoping more women are selected to work the games if they feel comfortable.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTOS (Top) Delonda Little takes her position on the court during the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final on March 25 at Breslin Center. (Middle) Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.