MHSA(Q&)A: Historian Ron Pesch

April 16, 2012

When we receive a question on the history of MHSAA athletics that we can't answer on the spot, Muskegon's Ron Pesch is the first person we seek out for help.

Pesch took the reins as Michigan's chief high school sports historian during the mid 1990s after the retirement of legendary MHSAA record book originator Dick Kishpaugh and has contributed to various efforts and publications across the state. 

One of his latest projects is the awarding of "retro" Mr. Basketball Awards. The first Hal Schram Mr. Basketball Award was given by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan in 1981 to Lansing Eastern's Sam Vincent. Three seasons ago, BCAM -- with research work by Pesch -- began awarding retro winners for the previous decades beginning with the 1920s. This winter, BCAM honored retro winners from 1922, 1932, 1942, 1952, 1962 and 1972.

Click to read more about those winners and the finalists recognized last month. Also, click for links to the previous retro winners. The retro Mr. Basketball project will last seven more seasons. Pesch explains more below.

How did you come up with rewarding a “Retro” Mr. Basketball?

The project came out of a conversation I had with (BCAM executive director) Tom Hursey at the basketball finals back in '99. Together, we hatched an approach honoring the state's past basketball greats. He let me run with it, while he worked on getting a subcommittee launched to make the selection.

How do you dig up all of this nomination info?

Between votes, I work on digging out the details. My initial target list always begins with all-state teams - if, of course they exist. All-tournament teams for the early years also serve as a starting point -- if they exist. Best I can tell, the Detroit Times, the Free Press and the News have all named all-state squads, at various points, back to about 1935. The Associated Press and UPI came to the game much later - somewhere around the early to mid 1960s. I then work on creating a crosstab on the players selected, noting the "teams" on which they were named (Class A 1st team, Dream Team, Class C 3rd team), and try to find quotes detailing their games. The result is really a reflection of the times and the history of newspaper reporting. 

In early years, we can struggle to uncover a player’s first name, let alone his class in school. And statistical coverage of a player's abilities was very limited. It's simply the way things were back then.  Everyone in town knew King Lewis, or Red Cherry, or Young Jacks. And the final box score only contained points, fouls, substitutions, as they were all you really needed to know about the game.  But by visiting the state library in Lansing, and looking at a cross-section of newspapers, you can usually dig out what you need.

Do you collect from other sources as well?

Another source is high school yearbooks. Some resources have started to emerge online. I also tap into the MHSAA site and make contact with ADs around the state, asking for their assistance on digging out details - especially class in school. Like the current program, only "seniors" are considered for the award.  Mid-year graduates can create a challenge, but the rule currently in place is a player is considered a nominee in the year in which he was last eligible for the state tournament. In other words, if you graduated in January or February of 1943, you would be considered for the 1942 ballot. It appears that a similar approach was used in selecting all-state teams.



High School











1971 A-1  G.

Frank Tanana, Jr. (C)

Detroit Catholic Central









1971 A-1  C

Tom McGill

Flint Northern









1971 A-1  F.

Lindsay Hairston

Detroit Kettering









1971 A-1  F.

Campy Russell

Pontiac Central









That cross-tab table will help establish a list of nominees. A consensus first-team pick is an obvious candidate. When only a single all-state team is available, I'll do what I can to look up all-conference teams or all-area teams from around the state to see who else might be considered. While life after high school is not a considered when trying to pick a winner, a player who emerges as a star in college or in the pros may emerge as a candidate when you see his details in a local paper.

Bios are assembled from the newspaper reports, detailing as much as we can find on high school player's career. I'll tap into a variety of resources including old team histories when available. When needed, I'll toss out request to reporters, old and new, around the state. Local librarians and historians are another wonderful resource.

How does voting work?

Between sessions of the Boys Finals, the committee assembles to hash out a final ballot, and to make a selection. I don't vote, but I may guide the conversation and provide any additional details when needed, reminding members that we're focusing on their high school careers. The process is certainly imperfect.  But the committee approach prevents the process from becoming a popularity contest. These guys have the benefit of watching many of the players play. And, like the current Mr. Basketball program, they sometimes surprise. But that's what makes it fun. And, of course, stirs the pot. It gets people talking about the history of basketball in this state. 

Is there a theme to MHSAA basketball that has remained constant over the years?

For me the greatest thing about the basketball tournament is that it assembles a wide range of folks who want to see players they've heard about in action. And the process, for the most part, hasn't change since the 1920s. While the style of the game has changed, winning a title is much the same as it was back when our great-grandfathers played: You gotta get through the tournament. And only four trophies are awarded.

These guys were the "Magic" of their day.  I'm hoping we never forget that.

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.