With Lee in Lead, Beecher Seizes Day Again with 2nd Title in 3 Seasons
By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com
March 25, 2023
EAST LANSING – Robert Lee Jr. didn’t mind shouldering the scoring load in Saturday’s Division 3 Final.
Especially with a championship at stake.
The Flint Beecher senior guard scored a game-high 29 points to lead Flint Beecher past Traverse City St. Francis 64-50 at Breslin Center.
“Before the game I got up some shots at a high school, and usually when I do that I feel good,” Lee Jr. said. “I felt like I had to step up for my team. I did my part, and my teammates did their part. We won it together.”
It was Beecher’s second Finals title in three years and sixth since 2012. The Bucs lost in the Semifinals last year and were eager to return and reclaim the championship.
“Last year I brought my team up here and it was tears of hurt and disappointment, and that's something we talked about not just tonight, but all season long,” Beecher coach Marquise Gray said. “I constantly reminded the guys of that feeling and I think it drove us, and we are fortunate and blessed to come away with a title tonight.”
The 6-foot-2 Lee Jr. scored 18 of his 29 in the second half. He was 12 of 19 from the field and also grabbed 11 rebounds.
“I couldn’t score that many points without my teammates,” said Lee Jr., who also was part of a Division 3 title team as a sophomore. “It feels good … and spring break is going to feel a lot better, and food is going to taste better.”
Beecher (24-4) blitzed St. Francis early and led 8-0 after the first three minutes. The opening run included a pair of layups and an emphatic dunk by Lee Jr.
However, the Gladiators fought back and ended the quarter on a 7-0 run. Senior Wyatt Nausadis drilled a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to give St. Francis a 17-15 lead.
The Gladiators carried the momentum into the second quarter and built a 28-21 lead. But defense helped bring Beecher closer as it scored the last four points of the half and trailed 30-27.
Lee Jr. helped Beecher reclaim the lead (35-32) with back-to-back buckets. He then had a three-point play and mid-range jumper to make it 42-34 – and a steal and layup to push the lead to 10. A 3-pointer from Wasir James in the final minute of the quarter gave Beecher its biggest lead (47-35) of the game.
Lee Jr. then added 13 points in the third quarter as Beecher outscored the Gladiators 20-7.
“Both of my calves started cramping up (at the end of the third quarter),” Lee Jr. said. “I tried to do whatever I could to prevent it, but I had to fight through it. When we got the win, I knew it was going to feel good.”
In the fourth quarter, St. Francis got to within five (47-42), but a Lee Jr. 3-pointer ignited a 7-0 surge that put the game out of reach.
Lee Jr. was the only Beecher player in double figures. Senior Jaylen Townsend had nine points and five rebounds, while senior Kevin Tiggs Jr. had eight points.
The Bucs shot 50 percent (26-52) from the field and recorded nine steals.
“We talked all year about seizing the moment, and tonight I think we did a great job of that,” Gray said. “Our road wasn't easy, but we continued to believe.”
St. Francis (24-4) was seeking its first Finals championship. Its best finish was Class C runner-up in 2012.
“That’s a good team, and we battled well,” Gladiators coach Sean Finnegan said. “We had a good first half and put ourselves in position, but they made a couple runs in the second half and we struggled to finish a little bit at times.
“But I can’t say how proud I am of the boys and the fact that we’re here and had the opportunity we had.”
Nausadis finished with a team-high 20 points, while senior center John Hagelstein added 12 points and seven rebounds. Senior Drew Breimayer had nine points.
PHOTOS (Top) Flint Beecher celebrates its Division 3 championship Saturday at Breslin Center. (Middle) The Bucs’ Keyonta Menifield (2) finds his way to the basket with Drew Breimayer (3) and John Hagelstein (23) defending. (Below) Kevin Tiggs Jr. elevates for a shot as Hagelstein and Joey Donahue (13) look to block it.
Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995
By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com
April 13, 2023
Delonda Little was already a trailblazer to many before this year’s MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals.
But 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 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 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.