Michigan's Best Reach Higher at Milford

August 4, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

HIGHLAND TOWNSHIP – Mackenna Kelly led her basketball team to last season’s MHSAA Semifinals and knows where she’ll eventually end up – playing for Central Michigan University in two years.

But having played on a big stage with her next destination decided didn’t keep the Frankfort senior-to-be from gaining valuable insight during this summer’s Reaching Higher showcase at Milford High School.

While most of the 200 players who participated in July’s girls and boys events sponsored by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan and MHSAA did so in part to train and play in front of the numerous college coaches gathered, Kelly was able to experience a little bit of a primer for her summer 2016.

“(Reaching Higher) is a great opportunity to get noticed, show off your skills and work with different people,” said Kelly, who will sign with the Chippewas this fall. “When you go to college you’re unfamiliar with all of your teammates at first. It’s good to start working with other people.”

The Reaching Higher events, in their seventh year, again featured many of the top 100 girls and boys college prospects as selected by a BCAM committee. College coaches representing more than 30 programs combined (men’s and women’s) and all levels attended the sessions. 

Former Detroit Cooley standout and current Orlando Magic guard Willie Green spoke with the boys, while former Grosse Pointe North star and University of Notre Dame captain Ariel Braker discussed with the girls some of the challenges that come with being a college athlete. Participants also learned about NCAA eligibility, and parents attended sessions on college recruiting. Meanwhile, groups of officials learned from experienced mentors and then were evaluated during games later in the events.  

Players left Milford with plenty to take home not only from a personal standpoint, but to assist their teammates as well.

For Kelly, it was the potential value of the pick-and-roll game for the Panthers, who fell to St. Ignace one game from the Class D Final in March. For Munising junior Marissa Immel, it was the variety of drills she and her teammates can add to work on their skills.

Belleville sophomore Davion Williams is considered one of the state’s top prospects in his class, but saw that he needs to step up his pull-up shooting. Senior teammate Calvin Blaydes appreciated the opportunity to play with such a strong group of players – and also the necessity to adjust his game to fit theirs and a different coach’s style during the three scrimmage sessions. Jackson junior Shonte Suddeth listened closely to the Magic’s Green; “Everything he said he was doing, I’ve got to do if I want to make it to the next level,” Suddeth said.

“If you're a state’s top-100 player, you need to be here,” said Muskegon boys coach Keith Guy, who has assisted with the event since its start and led the Big Reds to the Class A title in 2014. “I think it’s a great way the state is trying to give back to these athletes ... and I think kids need to take more advantage of this opportunity.”

Click for photos of the girls event and photos from the boys event, and see below for video explaining the Reaching Higher events. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Fruitport's Iyana Brown (92) and Temperance Bedford's Kendall Anderson prepare to launch for the jump ball during a Reaching Higher scrimmage. (Middle) Southfield Christian's Brock Washington prepares for a free throw.

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.

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.