Ford's Drive Ends With School's 1st Title

March 26, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – The final celebration of the 2015-16 Michigan high school basketball season started during the final seconds when a Detroit Henry Ford assistant coach slapped hands of everyone sitting on the bench.

After the buzzer, the crowd moved to the south end of the Breslin Center floor, before players and coaches arm in arm made their way upcourt to the opposite baseline and into position to receive the first MHSAA championship trophy in school history. 

Saturday night’s Class B Final was guaranteed to produce a first-time winner in boys basketball. It ended up being the team that fell just one victory short the season before – from a school that had never won a title in any sport in Finals competition.

Henry Ford, runner-up in 2015, is champion in 2016 thanks to a 61-47 win over Stevensville Lakeshore, which like the Trojans entered the postseason unranked but more than topped that expectation.

“Ever since the loss, we’ve been preparing in the gym to get back here, and not just to get here but to win it,” Henry Ford senior guard James Towns said. “It took a lot of work to get back here. It’s almost like losing everything when you get back here and lose.

“This year they doubted us; nobody had us winning. We were the bottom of Class B, and we came up here and proved them wrong.”

Henry Ford became the 13th school from the prestigious Detroit Public School League to win an MHSAA boys basketball title, giving the league two in two seasons after Detroit Western International also won its first boys hoops championship in 2015, in Class A.

The Trojans (20-6) fell in last season’s Class B Final 85-68 to Wyoming Godwin Heights, another first-time champion at the time.

This trip, Henry Ford was faced with multiple styles, first charged with shutting down guard-driven Williamston in the Semifinal (which it did 70-48) and then matched against a Lakeshore team boasting 6-foot-11 senior Braden Burke and 6-7 junior Max Gaishin. The tallest players in Ford’s regular rotation were 6-4.

Burke and Gaishin both had four points as Lakeshore stayed within a point during the first quarter, trailing 11-10 at the break. But they were unable to have an effect during a second quarter that saw the Lancers make only 1 of 7 shots from the floor and turn the ball over five times as Ford went on a 16-3 run to open up a 14-point advantage by halftime.

Burke and Gaishin would still lead a Lakeshore run. Burke had seven points and Gaishin four during the third quarter as their team cut into Ford’s lead substantially. The Trojans led 34-28 with a quarter to play. Another Burke bucket made the margin six again at 36-30 with 7:17 left on the clock.

“It’s a shame we got ourselves down in the first half. I’m not sure we reacted as well as we needed to the physicality of the ballgame in the first half,” Lakeshore coach Sean Schroeder said. “The second half, I think we did. We were one or two plays from really getting ourselves back in it.

“We had the momentum. If we get a stop, cut it to four, maybe it gets more interesting.”

Instead, Ford hustled to create its breakaway moment after Lakeshore did just about everything possible to prevent it. 

After Burke's basket, a 3-pointer by sophomore Deonta Ulmer pushed the Trojans’ lead back to nine. Towns stole the ball on Lakeshore’s ensuing possession and pushed it into the post, where Burke and Gaishin blocked consecutive shots.

But 6-3 junior Malik Harris came up with the ball after the second block and moved it to Towns, who found senior Jeremy Crawley in the corner for a back-breaking 3-pointer that pushed Ford’s advantage to 42-30.

“We gave up so much size all season. You can’t question the size of our hearts though,” Ford coach Kenneth Flowers said. “These guys play with so much passion, so much desire, and understand that the game is really won in the trenches. These guys always battle, always played against bigger guys, but they knew how to be tough down there.”

Burke, who scored a game-high 19 points, continued to battle and got the deficit back to seven with 1:48 to play. But nine of the game’s final 11 shots were made Trojans free throws.

Crawley scored 18 points, and Towns closed his high school career with 15 points and three assists. Senior forward Alston Hunter, who with Towns started on last year’s team, had 11 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. Ford outrebounded Lakeshore 30-19 and had 17 second-chance points.

Senior guard Logan Steffes added 10 points for Lakeshore, and Gaishin finished with nine points, five rebounds and two blocks.

The Lancers were playing in their second MHSAA Final and also finished Class B runner-up in 2012. They will graduate seven including four starters.

“When this class was growing up, we knew we had Braden and we knew we had Logan coming through,” Schroeder said. “But to see the development of some of these other kids, we had a tremendous senior class, a tremendous amount of leadership.

“A kid like Logan Steffes, who has put so much time and energy into this program. You saw at the end, he was trying to will us to win the game. He steals it, misses the shot, gets the ball back, misses. He wanted badly to win that game.”

Click for the full box score

The Boys Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Henry Ford players celebrate their first MHSAA championship in any sport Saturday. (Middle) The Trojans' James Towns soars as he prepares to launch.

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.