Iron Mountain Dream Season Continues

March 14, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – “Living this dream.”

Iron Mountain coach Bucky Johnson put special emphasis on those words Thursday afternoon.

He may have been pointing out the present tense of “living” after his Mountaineers ended the season for 2018 Class C champion Detroit Edison. Or maybe the “dream” as his team earned a shot to play for its first MHSAA boys basketball championship since winning the Upper Peninsula-only bracket in 1939.

Iron Mountain faced a tall task in the day’s first Division 3 Semifinal, even for a team that hasn’t tasted defeat this season. But the Mountaineers held off Edison 60-57 in their first Semifinals appearance since 1994.

“There’s not a lot of U.P. teams that get to come down here and experience this,” Iron Mountain junior guard Foster Wonders said. “To come down here and win too is something special. We take pride in that. It’s been unbelievable.”

Iron Mountain (27-0) will face also-unbeaten Pewamo-Westphalia in Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. championship game.

The Mountaineers have enjoyed quite a visit to East Lansing. On Wednesday, they spent an hour with 1973 graduate Tom Izzo, then watched his Michigan State team practice Thursday morning.

And all of that set up the Semifinal they weren’t necessarily expected to win – despite the perfect record they brought downstate. Edison (18-9) had more losses than all but one team making the trip to Breslin this weekend, but all seven to in-state opponents had come against Division 1 and 2 teams, and the Pioneers had just toppled top-ranked Flint Beecher in their Quarterfinal.

Edison then led most of the first quarter, carrying a seven-point advantage into the second.

“In the U.P. you don’t really see any athletes like that, with the length and athleticism they had,” Iron Mountain junior guard Marcus Johnson said.

But he and his teammates had a few surprises for Edison as well.

First was a game plan to attack the paint, which resulted in two first-quarter fouls for Pioneers’ 6-foot-6 junior Bryce George. He ended up limited to only 15 minutes for the game, with eight points and six rebounds that could’ve been a lot more with more time on the floor. He had four points and four rebounds before picking up that second foul 5:11 into the game.

Next, Iron Mountain played only six players, and four all 32 minutes. Edison had 12 players with at least four minutes of action, but couldn’t wear the Mountaineers down.

Not surprising was how Iron Mountain won. Johnson was averaging 23.3 points per game entering this week, and sophomore guard Foster Wonders was averaging 23.9. Wonders had 28 on Thursday, making nearly half his shots from the floor and 9-of-10 free-throw tries. Johnson had 23 points, with five 3-pointers and perfection on six free-throw attempts.

“One thing we knew about this team is they were winners. If a team has gone all season not losing a basketball, game, you have to respect them to the utmost,” Edison coach Brandon Neely said. “These guys play six guys, and one guy played four minutes. The thing about this team is they play so well as a team because they know where guys are. Teams like that are a great example to learn from.

“They played like champions.”

Sophomore guard Ralph Johnson came off the bench to lead Edison with 14 points, and senior forward Brian Taylor was held to 11 points and seven rebounds. Taylor, the team’s leading scorer coming into this week, was also its lone senior this season.

Edison shot a game-high 47 percent from the floor during the fourth quarter and got within 45-44 with 3:26 to play. But Iron Mountain’s “makers” – as Bucky Johnson called them, spinning off the “shooters shoot” phrase – had connected on 64 percent of their shots during the third quarter and made 50 percent during the fourth, including both shots from the floor and 10 straight free throws after Edison pulled within a point.

“Coach Izzo told us some people like it, some people love it and some people live it,” Marcus Johnson said. “And we want to live it. It’s an awesome feeling to get to the championship, and we want to get it home.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Iron Mountain celebrates Thursday its first Semifinal win since 1939. (Middle) Jake Dumais (32) battles Edison’s Brian Taylor for a loose ball.

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.