Class C: Reaching Higher

March 22, 2012

EAST LANSING – After falling in the first week of the MHSAA tournament last season, there was no way Traverse City St. Francis was going to look ahead to the end of March this winter.

But riding the bus to Breslin Center on Thursday, the reality of this weekend hit senior Sean Sheldon.

The Gladiators were 32 minutes from reaching their first MHSAA boys basketball Final. And now, they’re only 32 more from winning their first championship.

St. Francis earned that opportunity with 63-54 win over No. 8 Shelby in the second Class C Semifinal. The Gladiators will face Flint Beecher in the noon championship game Saturday.

“Last year, we got out of tournament pretty early. It was a big disappointment for us,” Sheldon said. “We looked ahead a little bit, kinda at what we could do. … Now we’re in the Finals, and now 32 minutes from holding up the first ever state title for our school.”

This was St. Francis’ third Semifinal appearance. The Gladiators (25-2) had never before advanced, losing in their last appearance, in 2006, by 29 points to Saginaw Buena Vista.

St. Francis had high hopes last season. But Elk Rapids ended those abruptly in the District Final.

This time, the Gladiators beat all three of their District opponents by at least 31 points, and two more after that by at least 11 before coming up against Shelby – which was making its first Semifinal appearance since 1972, when Tigers’ longtime coach Rick Zoulek was in middle school.

“In the back of my mind, I was always thinking that was a goal of mine,” said Shelby’s David Beckman, Jr., who with Jeremiah James was a four-year varsity player. “It just happened to be the 50-year anniversary, and we actually made that happen. We had 13 guys make that happen.”

And they nearly advanced to their first Final since that same season.

No matter how much St. Francis surged, Shelby hung around – and took a 45-44 lead with 35 seconds left in the third quarter. The Gladiators held just a one-point lead with 5:58 to play.

“You could feel the momentum coming back our way, and we had a few breaks go against us. A couple mistakes. We missed a couple of shots, a turnover here and there,” Zoulek said. “It was really close. It makes you realize how close you really are to being in that final game. Just a couple of plays.”

Some of them came from Sheldon, who scored six of his 16 points over the final six minutes. The Tigers also made just 4 of 11 shots during that time and had three turnovers. They did well breaking St. Francis’ fullcourt press, but struggled to finish at the other end.

Beckman finished with 17 points and James had 12 points and 11 rebounds for Shelby (24-3).

Three others scored in double figures for St. Francis – senior guard Devin Sheehy led with 18 points (and seven assists), while senior center Michael Jenkins added 14 points and sophomore guard Byron Bullough had 11. Sheldon, who has signed with William & Mary, grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.

While the basketball championship game is new ground for St. Francis, winning at this level is not—the Gladiators have won six MHSAA football championships over the last 21 seasons.

It’s definitely a football school by reputation. And that success was a big reason basketball coach Keith Haske took the hoops job before 2010-11 after leading multiple Charlevoix teams to Breslin.

“One of the reasons I was excited about going there was because of football. The kids have the mentality they can be state champions,” Haske said. “When I walked in the first day of practice, I had a group of kids who said that because of football, we can be state champs here. That’s a huge factor, and I don’t think people realize that. Because not only do that believe that, but they put the work into it.”

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

PHOTO: Traverse City St. Francis' Sean Sheldon had 16 points and 12 rebounds in Thursday's Semifinal win. (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.