Finally, Clarkston Celebrates in Class A

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 25, 2017

EAST LANSING – After 35 years, nearly 700 wins and three high school gyms, Dan Fife has brought an MHSAA title to his alma mater.

Fife’s Clarkston boys basketball team defeated Grand Rapids Christian 75-69 on Saturday in the Class A Final at the Breslin Center for the first boys basketball title in program history.

“It’s really unexplainable right now,” Fife said. “I really don’t know how to put it. All I know is I’ve been through three high school gyms at Clarkston during my tenure. I’ve said this before, but I really truly meant it: Clarkston’s a special place, I think one because we have one public school in our district. We have great support from our administration, our teachers and our families. I don’t think you can be successful in athletics, especially in today’s world of athletics, if you don’t have that support.”

Fife, who has a 677-169 record at Clarkston, is a 1967 graduate of the school. He took over the program 1982, and in his 35 seasons, only one has ended without a winning record. Even that season included a District title.

“This whole season has been a group journey,” Clarkston all-state junior guard Foster Loyer said. “For my teammates and myself to come out here and win this state championship tonight, it not only means everything to us as players, as a team, as a family; but just knowing we were able to get that done for Coach Fife, it’s what we’ve been dreaming about since we started playing basketball here in Clarkston. It’s just been a phenomenal experience, and we’re loving life right now.”

Loyer, a Michigan State recruit, led all scorers with 29 points on his future home court, shooting 50 percent from the field (8 of 16) and from 3-point range (4 of 8). His future MSU teammate, senior Xavier Tillman, led Grand Rapids Christian with 25 points on 12 of 15 (80 percent) shooting, and grabbed seven rebounds.

“(Loyer) can shoot the ball, he can handle the ball, he can pass the ball, so it’s kind of like pick your poison when it comes to Foster,” Tillman said. “When we tried to step up, he would drive by, give a pump fake, get the foul, two free throws. It was hard to stop him, and he’s going to be a great player for us later on when it comes to Michigan State.”

Clarkston sophomore Taylor Currie added 16 points and 10 rebounds, while junior C.J. Robinson had 14 points, and senior Dylan Alderson had 12. Grand Rapids Christian juniors Duane Washington, Jr., and Setrick Millner, Jr., added 16 and 11 points, respectively.

“I give Clarkston a lot of credit – they’re well coached, their kids played great, they played hard, and they responded and made shots,” Grand Rapids Christian coach Mark Warners said. “The ball didn’t always go our way, but that’s the way the game goes. They were awesome tonight. We were good, but we weren’t awesome.”

Fife lauded his team’s overall effort in the game, as Robinson’s secondary scoring – specifically 12 second-half points – and ballhandling were able to take pressure off Loyer, and Currie was able to hold his own at times and stay out of foul trouble against Tillman despite giving up more than 50 pounds.

“We knew that (Tillman) is a great force in the paint,” Currie said. “My main focus going into the game was just try to stay in front, knowing I had help in the back. If I could force a pass over the top, it could be a steal. Then when he got the ball, trying to stay straight up and avoid getting into foul trouble. And keeping him off the glass, that was something we really keyed in on because he’s a great rebounder, especially on offense. He uses his body really well, so I was trying to box out as soon as I could.”

Clarkston (27-1) gained the game’s first bit of separation with 3-pointers on four straight possessions to close out the first quarter. Loyer hit three in a row, while Alderson added one at the buzzer to give the Wolves a 20-12 lead.

They led by as many as 11 points in the second quarter, as Loyer opened it with another 3. Grand Rapids Christian (27-1) pulled to within three on a 3-pointer from Tre Vallar in the final minute of the half, but an acrobatic buzzer beater from Robinson gave Clarkston a 34-29 lead heading into the break.

Grand Rapids Christian had a better half from the field, shooting 57.1 percent compared to Clarkston’s 40 percent, but the Wolves held an 8-0 edge in points off turnovers and an 11-2 edge in second-chance points, as they pulled down nine offensive rebounds during the opening 16 minutes.

The hot shooting continued for the Eagles into the third quarter, but they weren’t able to close the gap, as Clarkston was just as hot, hitting 75 percent of its shots in the third quarter and 60 percent in the fourth. The Wolves also shot 14 of 17 from the free throw line (82.4 percent) in the fourth quarter.

“We scored 69 points, so offensively we were fine,” Warners said. “The problem is we gave up 75. The credit goes to, like I said, to Clarkston. We just didn’t have an answer consistently. We’d get a good defensive possession and then we’d come down and not capitalize on it, miss a shot. Then they’d come down and make a shot.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Clarkston holds up its Class A championship trophy in celebration after Saturday’s Final. (Middle) Clarkston coach Dan Fife. (Below) Grand Rapids Christian’s Duane Washington, Jr., throws down a dunk. 

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.