GR Christian Ends 80-year Finals Wait

March 24, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

EAST LANSING – Xavier Tillman stood taller, literally, than anyone else on the court during his team’s Class A Semifinal on Friday at the Breslin Center.

Figuratively as well, the Grand Rapids Christian senior has stood as tall as any of the giants who have dominated the floor in Michigan this season.  

But if Christian wins its first MHSAA championship Saturday since 1938, just as much credit will belong to his supporting cast – even as he called himself not the star, but rather the distributor after they beat Romulus 74-52 to advance to the Final.

Five teammates scored more than Tillman on Friday. But that doesn’t mean the 6-foot-8 forward’s presence was negligible. He took only three shots, scored only five points, but also had eight rebounds, six assists and seven blocks and drew plenty of attention from Romulus to help Christian make its first championship game in 80 years.

“I have a team full of scorers,” Tillman said, “so my job is to facilitate on my team.”

“We’ve always said we have to get the ball in to Xavier and let him make a play, whether it’s for himself or his teammates, or at least draw attention,” Grand Rapids Christian coach Mark Warners added. “Xavier said it; you don’t know who is going to score, and with these guys what’s been great all year is they don’t care.”

Grand Rapids Christian (27-0), No. 1 in Class A at the end of the regular season, will face No. 3 Clarkston at noon Saturday for its first MHSAA title since winning the Lower Peninsula Class B championship in 1938 (from 1932-47, one champion was awarded from each peninsula in Classes B, C and D; in 1943 no statewide champions were awarded).

Romulus (21-5) last had been to Breslin much more recently, winning Class A in 2013. But although it gave a strong challenge into the third quarter this time, no one has stood in Christian’s way for the entirety this season.

Christian opened the third quarter on a 15-3 run over five minutes, as senior James Beck II had six of his game-high 24 points.

“He did keep us in it,” Warners said. “He gets the points where it’s off a rebound or putback, or he gets an and-one on the break and makes the free throw, or he gets the dump down from a guard or Xavier and can score around the rim in so many ways. It’s a really nice thing to have.”

For the game, Beck connected on 11 of 17 shots from the field as Christian made 54 percent as a team.

Romulus hit only 35 percent of its shots from the floor and 31 percent from 3-point range, hindering a team that already had a tough time matching up with more sizable Christian.

“It’s kind’ve a shock. We’ve never gone 8 for 26 from the 3-point line,” Romulus coach Jerret Smith said. “We prided ourselves on hitting shots this year, and when you can’t hit shots it’s hard – especially when you have the kid who’s 6-8, 260 in the lane. It’s very hard to get him out of the lane if you’re not hitting shots.”

Junior guards Duane Washington, Jr., and Setrick Millner, Jr., added 15 and 11 points, respectively, and senior guard Thad Shymanski had 10 for Grand Rapids Christian. Washington also had six assists and senior guard Emmett Warners had five.

Junior Kaevon Merriweather had 18 points to lead Romulus, and senior forward Jaren English had 17 points and eight rebounds. Senior forward Dylan Price added 12 points and nine boards.

Three starters and the top-playing sub from Friday should be back for Romulus next season. Romulus entered the postseason an honorable mention in the Class A poll, but eliminated reigning champion Detroit U-D Jesuit in the Quarterfinal.

“The good thing about this is the foundation has been laid,” Smith said. “We hadn’t been here in four years, and that was a long time for us. I’m so proud of these seniors; all around, they put a lot of work in. … When you get tough losses, you’ve gotta except those too. Grand Rapids Christian was a better team today. We’re not going to make excuses. We’ll just come back and get in the gym, and hopefully next year will be our year.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Christian’s Setrick Millner, Jr., goes in for a dunk during Friday’s Class A Semifinal win. (Middle) Christian’s Xavier Tillman works for position against a pair of Romulus defenders.

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.