Joplin Always Has Known Value of Home

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

July 9, 2020

It is no accident that Stan Joplin has never ventured too far from his hometown of Milan on the border of Monroe and Washtenaw Counties in extreme southeast Michigan.

In fact, that has been by design.

“Mr. (Phil) Barnes once told me that you never want to get too far from home,” Joplin said recently, recalling one of his high school administrators. “If you are close by your home, people will remember you.”

It has been more than 40 years since Joplin played basketball at Milan, and no one is forgetting him anytime soon.

A coach at the high school and Division I collegiate levels and then high school again over nearly 40 years, the 63-year-old Joplin is two seasons removed from his last tenure leading the program at Sylvania Southview. But those decades of wisdom continue to be passed on to Southview students as Joplin serves as an assistant principal at the high school.

“The farthest I ever lived from Milan was when I was coaching at Kent State,” he said. “I’ve remained in southeast Michigan or northwest Ohio all of these years. I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to stay close to home and receive a good education. You can’t put a price on education. Sooner or later, basketball was going to come to an end.”

It gave him a running start at the beginning.

One of the first four-year starters in Monroe County Region history, Joplin grew up around the game. People like Barnes, coach Ron Dingman and Ann Arbor’s Sandy Sanders all played key roles in Joplin’s early success.

Barnes was a mentor, offering advice and some key life lessons. Dingman was the coach who inserted Joplin into the starting lineup as soon as he could and kept him there as he led the Big Reds in scoring and was named team MVP four consecutive seasons. Sanders was a local basketball guru with connections from Ann Arbor to Detroit.

“Mr. Sanders was umpiring a baseball game and saw me shooting over at the elementary school,” Joplin said. “He invited me to come up to Ann Arbor to play.”

Sanders saw the basketball talent in Joplin and put him on the court in Ann Arbor with other prep talent and some University of Michigan players.

“That’s where I met guys like Campy Russell and Joe Johnson,” Joplin said.

Sanders took area players – including Joplin – to Detroit to play at the famed St. Cecilia Gym. St. Cecilia is well-known in basketball circles for hosting standouts like George Gervin, Magic Johnson and, more recently, Jalen Rose.

“You can imagine what kind of eye-opening experience that was,” Joplin said. “It showed me how hard I had to work. That was huge for me. That really exposed me to basketball.”

Growing up, his neighbor played basketball at Milan, and Joplin would get to go to all the games to watch him. Joplin read about Milan and other local basketball players in the Ypsilanti Press, Ann Arbor News and Monroe News, soaking up everything he could about the game.

“I just wanted to be an athlete,” he said.

He was more than just an athlete. An all-stater, he scored more than 1,500 career points – still a Milan record – and was recruited to play at the University of Toledo for Bobby Nichols.

“It was the perfect situation,” Joplin said of growing up where he did. “Milan was a small town. A lot of the students I went to elementary school with I spent my whole time in school with. I knew everyone in the city.”

At Toledo, Joplin blossomed into an all-around player with a knack for elevating his game during key moments. He was named second team all-Mid-American Conference in 1977-78 and 1978-79. The 1979 Rockets won the MAC championship and made the NCAA Tournament. It was there that Joplin had the biggest moment of his career when he knocked down a 20-foot jumper to beat Iowa, 74-72, in the first round. The Rockets would lose a close game in the second round to a Notre Dame team that included four future NBA players. During Joplin’s four years at Toledo, the Rockets went 82-27.

While making national headlines, Joplin also was earning his education, something that Barnes encouraged along the way.

“I followed in his footsteps, went to college, got my degree and went into administration,” Joplin said.

After graduating from UT’s College of Education in 1979, Joplin began coaching at the high school level and was soon head coach at Toledo Start High School. He went on to become an assistant at Kent State University then joined the Rockets’ coaching staff during which time he earned a Master of Administration degree. He would later join the Michigan State University staff with Jud Heathcote and Tom Izzo.

In 1996, Joplin was named head coach at his alma mater, where he remained for 12 years, going 203-155 overall and making the NIT field four times. After he was let go following the 2007-08 campaign, Joplin reached into his education background to become an administrator in the Toledo area. He probably could have landed an assistant coaching job somewhere because of his connections in the sport, but chose not to go that route. He remained close to home.

He coached for a few seasons at Holland (Ohio) Springfield and one year at Sylvania Southview but is enjoying being a basketball fan these days.

“Basketball is the one thing I’ve done my whole life. I miss coaching, but I don’t need it,” he said.

Joplin goes to most of the Southview games and will go on the road occasionally to watch games in which some of his former players are coaching. He gets back to Michigan State University every now and then to watch the Spartans practice and relishes friendships he’s made in the game with people like former University of Michigan head coach Tommy Amaker and former Boston College head coach Al Skinner.

“I’ve got a lot of close friends that I stay in touch with,” he said.

He is not ruling out a return to the sidelines, but is not planning on it, either.

“I watch a lot of basketball. The game has changed,” he said. “The 3-point shot has taken the center out of the game. But, the game itself, is fine.”

Joplin is in the hallways more than the gym these days at Southview. His students know more about Mr. Joplin the school administrator than Stan Joplin the legendary basketball player from Milan – and he is fine with that.

“Every once in a while, someone will say something or bring me a video and say, ‘Hey, Mr. Joplin, I didn’t know you played.’ I just tell them that’s not me, that is just some guy with a lot more hair. It’s become kind of a running joke.”

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Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Milan basketball legend Stan Joplin serves as an assistant principal at Sylvania Southview High School. (Middle) Joplin still owns the career scoring record at Milan. 

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.