D4 Preview: New Era, Familiar Contenders

March 13, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Division 4 has replaced Class D this year as the boys basketball tournament classification for Michigan’s smallest high schools, and some familiar teams from the previous era will return to the Breslin Center on Thursday to help usher in a new one.

Reigning Class D champion Southfield Christian and Wyoming Tri-unity Christian have won eight MHSAA Finals in this sport between them. Dollar Bay joins Southfield Christian as a returnee from last season, making the Semifinals for the second straight, and Frankfort is making the trip to East Lansing for the second time this decade.

Division 4 Semifinals – Thursday
Dollar Bay (21-4) vs. Southfield Christian (19-6), 5:30 p.m.

Frankfort (20-5) vs. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (22-3), 7:30 p.m.

Division 4 Final – Saturday, 10 a.m.

Tickets cost $10 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session (Divisions 4 and 1). All Semifinals will be streamed live on MHSAA.tv and viewable on a pay-per-view basis. The Divisions 2, 3 and 4 championship games will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit’s primary channel, while the Division 1 Final will be shown live on Fox Sports Detroit PLUS. All four championship games will be streamed live on FoxSportsDetroit.com and the FOX Sports app. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on MHSAANetwork.com.

Below is a glance at all four semifinalists. Click on the name of the school to see that team’s full schedule and results from this season. (Statistics are through teams' Regional Finals.)

21-4, unranked
League finish: Second in Copper Mountain Conference Copper
Coach: Jason Kentala, 12th season (105-120)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 67-64 over No. 6 Pellston in Quarterfinal, 65-56 over No. 10 Munising in Regional Semifinal, 70-55 over Chassell in District Semifinal.
Players to watch: Ashton Janke, 6-3 fr. F (16.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg); Connor LeClaire, 6-0 soph. F (13.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg).
Outlook: Dollar Bay graduated an all-stater and brings only one starter back this weekend from last season’s Semifinal team, but is on a roll with 14 wins over its last 15 games. The lone loss during that string came to CMC Copper champ Chassell, and Dollar Bay avenged it six nights later at the District. Senior guard Brendan LeClaire (9.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.5 apg) is that one returning starter from a year ago, and sophomore guard Davin Hill adds another 12.4 ppg. The Blue Bolts are hitting on 32 percent of their 3-point shots this winter, a big plus as some of these players get their second looks at the Breslin rims.

20-5, unranked
League finish: Second in Northwest Conference
Coach: Dan Loney, first season (20-5) 
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final. 
Best wins: 53-51 (OT) over honorable mention Big Rapids Crossroads, 41-38 (Regional Final), 62-59 (OT) and 63-58 over Leland.
Players to watch: Will Newbold, 6-0 sr. G (14.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.1 apg); Jack Stefanski, 6-3 soph. G (14 ppg, 17.9 rpg).
Outlook: Frankfort is making its third trip to the Semifinals and first since 2014. This time the team is led by Loney, formerly an assistant for four seasons before taking over the program. Frankfort finished behind only Division 3 No. 4 Maple City Glen Lake in the Northwest Conference and has navigated two overtime wins and a third by three points during the postseason – the two overtime victories put the team at 4-0 this season in games that went past regulation. This is also the second straight season the Panthers have reached 20 wins, and four starters plus the top scorer off the bench are all seniors.

19-6, No. 3
League finish: First in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue
Coach: Josh Baker, eighth season (179-30)
Championship history: Class D champions 2018, 2014, 2013 and 2012. 
Best wins: 55-30 over honorable mention Adrian Lenawee Christian in Regional Final, 79-53 (District Semifinal), 61-51 and 69-52 over Novi Christian.  
Players to watch: Jon Sanders, 6-1 sr. G (16.5 ppg, 56 3-pointers); Da’Jion Humphrey, 6-2 jr. G (16.4 ppg, 45 3-pointers, 6.5 rpg, 1.0 bpg).
Outlook: Reigning Class D champion Southfield Christian is making its third straight appearance in the Semifinals, with Humphrey and Sanders both starters on last season’s title winner and junior forward Rahmon Scruggs (7.4 ppg) the top sub during the 2018 Final. Junior guard Noah Rheker adds another 11.6 ppg and had made 45 3-pointers heading into this week as well. The Eagles started this winter 2-5 facing mostly Division 1 and 2 schools; they also have wins this season over West Bloomfield and Detroit Country Day, and their only loss since Jan. 5 came to Division 2 contender River Rouge.

22-3, No. 5
League finish: Second in Alliance League
Coach: Mark Keeler, 32nd season (599-188)
Championship history: Four Class D titles (most recent 2011), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 62-31 over No. 2 Bellevue in Quarterfinal, 68-56 over No. 4 Marcellus Howardsville Christian in Regional Semifinal, 58-40 over No. 9 Martin in District Final, 62-53 over Muskegon Heights Academy in Regional Final.
Players to watch: Bennett Sinner, 6-0 sr. F (12.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.8 spg); Brayden Ophoff, 5-10 sr. G (11.5 ppg, 42 3-3-pointers).
Outlook: Tri-unity has made at least the Quarterfinals four of the last five seasons and the Semifinals now for the first time since 2016. This Defenders team has the program’s best record since finishing Class D runner-up and going 25-3 in 2013. Tri-unity hasn’t lost since Jan. 22, and two of the defeats came to Division 3 No. 2 Pewamo-Westphalia and honorable mention Potter’s House Christian. Sinner earned an all-state honorable mention last season. Freshman guard Brady Titus adds another 12 ppg.  

PHOTO: Southfield Christian’s Jon Sanders drives to the basket during his team’s Regional Final win over Adrian Lenawee Christian. (Photo courtesy of C&G Newspapers.)

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

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

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.