Class B: Moves like Magic

March 23, 2012

EAST LANSING – The first time Detroit Country Day faced this Lansing Sexton team during a Finals weekend, the Yellowjackets won an MHSAA championship.

But coach Kurt Keener knew that night in 2010 wouldn’t be the last his team would run into these Big Reds.

The rematch came in last season’s Semifinals – a Sexton win that was a little about revenge, but more about earning a chance to break a 51-season title drought.

When the top-ranked Big Reds faced No. 3 Country Day in yet another Semifinal on Friday, it was about finishing one of the most incredible two-season runs in MHSAA history. And Sexton earned that opportunity with a 74-59 win.

“We’ve come a long way since we started this out our sophomore year,” said Sexton senior Jeff Cain, one of six current Big Reds who played on the 2010 team. “We had a shaky start, 6-4 I think, and people started to doubt us. But we had a team meeting, we got it together, and we’ve been on a roll ever since.”

In the Lansing basketball community, that team meeting has become legendary. It’s impossible to argue with the results.

Since falling to Country Day 71-47 in the 2010 Class B Final, Sexton has gone 52-3 and won its first MHSAA title – last season, also in Class B – since 1960. Now the Big Reds will face No. 7 Stevensville Lakeshore in the last championship game of the winter, at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Keener has seen more than most over 34 seasons and 653 wins. So when he raves, it comes with an extra punch.

His biggest Friday came for Sexton’s 6-foot-6 senior Denzel Valentine, this season’s Associated Press Class B Player of the Year and a Michigan State recruit. He had 12 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and five steals – and drew a Keener comparison as the best big passing guard since Lansing Everett legend Magic Johnson.

Senior Anthony Clemmons (Iowa) led with 21 points, and senior guard Bryn Forbes (Cleveland State) followed with 19. Junior forward Jalen Hayes added 12. Total, the Big Reds shot 59 percent from the floor and outrebounded the Yellowjackets by 12. Sexton led by at least 10 for the final 15:31.

“We played a tough schedule, but that’s the best basketball team we’ve played this season,” Keener said. “They have no weakness. They have no weak player."

And yet, the Big Reds (26-1) made enough mistakes – like 19 turnovers – to look forward at Saturday’s Final with some added motivation. 

“You don’t always win pretty,” Sexton coach Carlton Valentine said. “(But) I don’t give them enough credit. They work hard. They execute the game player. They find a way to win games. We weren’t the smartest offensively tonight, but we made plays when we needed to.”

Country Day finished 21-6. Senior Robert Puleikis led the Yellowjackets with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Senior Austin Price had 11 points and sophomore Edmond Price had 10.

Click for box score or to watch the game and press conferences at

PHOTO: Sexton senior Jeff Cain drives past Country Day senior Robert Puleikis during Friday's Semifinal. (Photo courtesy of Terry McNamara Photography.)

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.