New Haven Grows into Class B Contender

March 24, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

EAST LANSING – Eric Williams, Jr., has learned a lot about becoming a champion these last few seasons.

And as Williams has grown, so too has New Haven’s success on the basketball court.

The Rockets will find themselves playing in their first MHSAA championship game Saturday night, thanks to a 78-49 win over Benton Harbor on Friday in what was the program’s first Semifinal as well.

Williams had 22 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals, continuing a closing run that could see him leave an unprecedented legacy at the school. He had 11 points, six rebounds and two steals in the first quarter Friday, setting the tone from the start.

“I just came out looking to be aggressive more, because last game I was just out there. I think I had to come in and prove something,” Williams said.

“I’ve learned I’ve just gotta stay calm and not get stage fright on the big stage. Learning to play defense and what team basketball really is, I think I’ve learned that over the (last) few years.”

New Haven (25-1) will face Ludington in the final game of this season, Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. Class B Final. 

Williams, a 6-foot-5 guard, entered this week averaging 20.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3.8 steals per game. New Haven coach Tedaro France II said after Friday’s win that upping his defense has made Williams a complete player – and that newfound all-around game has made him “one of the hottest players in the state right now.”

The first Semifinal came three days after the Rockets' third straight Quarterfinal. They are now 72-5 during this three-season run, and Williams’ rise is just an example of how experience has benefitted the team as a whole.

“That’s something as a coach you can’t teach,” France said. “Kids have to play in big games, and sometimes like with these guys, we have to fail first before we have success. And we’ve failed a lot.

“Me, I say to our kids, let’s win today. And in practice each day, we fail. I say, let’s learn from our mistakes. I don’t mind if they make 10 mistakes, but let’s not make the same ones. And I think our kids are learning to play through adversity. They know they can make mistakes, then just go back and get back on defense."

Following Williams’ hot start, New Haven took a 22-10 lead into the second quarter and a 43-19 advantage into halftime. The lead got up to 38 during the fourth quarter before Benton Harbor (22-4) finished on a 9-0 run.  

The Tigers entered the postseason ranked No. 5 by The Associated Press – New Haven was No. 3 – and had plenty of success as well this season. But they struggled this time to get into a groove against an opponent that beat them at their own game.

New Haven excelled defensively, holding Benton Harbor to 33 percent shooting and taking advantage of 17 turnovers. The Rockets turned on the transition game, to the point Tigers freshman center Carlos Johnson said, “When we’re running up the floor … they were already up there.”

Benton Harbor also is used to outrebounding its opponents, and Johnson had 10. But as coach Corey Sterling said, it was like New Haven had “two or three Carloses” – the Rockets won the rebounding edge 44-31.

“Pretty much we do pressure defense and get out in transition, but they didn’t turn the ball over and they made shots, and that’s pretty much it,” Sterling said. “It seemed like they had an answer for everything we threw at them tonight.”

In addition to Johnson being one of the most highly-regarded freshmen in the state – and finishing with nine points and five blocks to go with those 10 boards – the game also featured one of the state's top sophomores in New Haven forward Romeo Weems, who tallied 14 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. Sophomore guard Roland Jeffery II added 10 points for the Rockets.

Junior guard Elijah Baxter scored 14 points to top Benton Harbor, which played in its second Semifinal in four seasons – and perhaps began a string of championship weekend trips to come.

“We’ve only got two seniors really in our rotation, and this is a good experience for guys like Elijah, Carson, Shawn (Hopkins) and Dennie (Brown),” Sterling said. “Now we know how to get here … now let’s work hard in the summer to take the necessary steps to try to win it all.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) New Haven’s Eric Williams, Jr., (2) looks to pass over Benton Harbor’s Carlos Johnson. (Middle) The Rockets’ A.J. Crawford III splits a pair of Tigers defenders during Friday’s Class B Semifinal. 

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.