Jets' Record: Never to be Broken

April 13, 2017

By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half

ESCANABA - The North Central Jets are champions.

Of the billions of words I've typed on keyboards over the years, none are more appropriate or more true than "The North Central Jets are champions."

It is more than what they have done on hardwoods and gridirons across the state.

Five MHSAA championships in the past three years underline those six words, but it is how the guys wearing red, black and white uniforms have comported themselves on those playgrounds.

They've done it with class all the way. They display wide smiles – at least where you can see their faces in basketball. They hug themselves and you after the game and thank you for coming and for your support.

They may run you over in football and leap above you in basketball, but that is their job and they have supreme joy in doing it well and getting it done the right way.

No matter who they play or where they play, the result has always been the same, another win. Think of it: They have won 134 games in those two sports, including 26 straight in football and a state-record 83 in basketball, with one lonely defeat over those past four hoops seasons. The title runs included two in 8-player football and the last three in Class D basketball.

The word “lose” is simply not in their vocabulary.

It has been a treat for all of us to watch them go about their business as they share a tremendous skill set and build an incredible legacy that has surpassed anything else in the Upper Peninsula.

Ishpeming football and girls basketball at Carney-Nadeau also have been model programs. And of course Chassell, which won three straight Class D basketball titles and 65 straight games in the 1950s.

It is unlikely North Central's current streak of 83 straight basketball wins will ever be surpassed. Don't forget, Chassell's record lasted 59 years and the Jets are now 18 games beyond that standard. 

You can put this record up with Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak and the 18 majors of Jack Nicklaus as being unbreakable, along with the recently-ended University of Connecticut women's basketball streak of 111 straight wins that is beyond reality.

I don't know what the national high school win streak record is for boys basketball but found that Palmer, Iowa, is only fifth with 103 straight wins from 1986-89. (Editor’s Note: The record belongs to Passaic, NJ, with 159 straight from 1919-25, but no team has won even 85 consecutive since 2003-06.)

Let us just remember how wonderful it has been to be a spectator of this outstanding accomplishment and what it has done for the school, the community and the entire Upper Peninsula.

Thank you Jets. You are champions.

Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and 1984-2012, and as interim during the 2016-17 school year. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.

PHOTO: The Powers North Central boys basketball team holds up its Class D championship trophy last month at the Breslin Center. 

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.