Changing of the Capital Guard

August 16, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Who would I pick to coach a Lansing area boys basketball Dream Team? Sportswriters get a lot of questions like that, from radio hosts or fans, or roommates who grew up nearby.

To not offend the other coaching friends I’d made in my decade-plus in Lansing, I kept that answer within the roommate circle for a long time – until I decided Okemos' Dan Stolz and Lansing Everett's Johnny Jones were so incredible their colleagues would understand my choice.

I could’ve never picked between them. Their styles different, the results were the same. Both had stars over their decades, but I also saw both do more with less and in ways that regularly went unmatched during the 13 years I was a twice-weekly watcher of high school hoops for the Lansing State Journal.

It’s only a coincidence that both decided to retire from coaching during this same summer. But it’s certainly a double loss for mid-Michigan specifically and the statewide basketball community as a whole.

So why were these guys my Dream Team combo?

  • Of course, they won a lot.

According to a report from local HOMTV, Stolz finished with a record of 428-99 at Williamston and then Okemos, where he took over for his father Stan in 1994-95. That win total is only eight more than Dad's, giving the family 828 wins over roughly four decades.

Tracking down Jones’ record wasn’t as easy. But based on the paper trail I’ve been running since I got my start in Lansing, he had 334 wins after the 2003-04 season, which likely means he too finished right around 400 – with a few hundred more leading the Vikings girls.

And they were the kind of standout high school players too whose stories had become legend – Jones for Battle Creek Central once taking down a top-ranked team by himself, while it was said Stolz could still dunk into his 40s after playing for his dad and the Chieftains back in his day.

  • They won at the highest levels.

Jones is one of only a handful who has won MHSAA championships with both girls and boys teams – his girls teams won Class A in 2000 and 2001 and his boys won Class A in 2004. Everett’s girls program, by the way, was near-winless just a few years before Jones took over and led it to its first run to a Final in 1999.

Stolz never got his MHSAA title, his Chieftains falling to Saginaw Arthur Hill 85-84 in the 2006 Class A Final – the only MHSAA boys title game ever to go two extra periods. But against what many locals considered long odds, Stolz led Okemos from the cozy Class B-dominated Capital Circuit into the highest division of the Capital Area Activities Conference, where the Chieftains continued to win against the likes of Everett, Lansing Sexton, Lansing Eastern, Holt, Grand Ledge, East Lansing and Jackson in what is arguably the toughest league in the state.

Another interesting “by the way:” Stolz did lead Okemos’ softball (1999) and girls tennis teams (1993) to MHSAA championships.

  • They won by doing the things others weren’t.

Jones’ girls teams were loaded with talent – a number of players went on to major college programs – but they were unstoppable because of a fullcourt press that handcuffed opponents and set a trend that others like Lansing Waverly and East Lansing also used to win Class A titles. Jones' best boys teams had an all-state post combo of Derick Nelson and Goran Suton, but still had to contend with Grand Ledge’s Al Horford (now of the Atlanta Hawks) two and three times a season.

And, it must be noted that Jones was one of fewer than 20 coaches who continued coaching both the boys and girls teams even after the girls season was moved from fall to winter for 2007-08.

Stolz similarly had his share of good players – Johnathon Jones maybe the best of all. But again, playing in a league with a number of other similarly-talented players (and in the postseason against Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Kalin Lucas and others), Stolz was unmatched in Greater Lansing when it came to gameday strategy. His teams always had a plan, and frequently made it work when the odds seemed stacked against -- which made apparent upsets hardly surprises at all.

Stolz has been replaced by Jeff Wonch, who led Bath to the MHSAA Class C title in 2007. He most recently coached at Potterville. Jones' replacement is former Everett star Desmond Ferguson, who played briefly in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers and was a volunteer assistant for the Vikings last season.

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.