Next Generation Chargers Make C Final

March 23, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Carson Meulenberg and Trenton Koole had never played a game of this magnitude before taking the Breslin Center floor Thursday.

But their dads had, and perhaps indirectly that provided them a little experience. At least it seemed like it.

Covenant Christian didn’t seem bothered by any of the usual anxieties teams face when they play during the final weekend for the first time. The Chargers – in an MHSAA Semifinal for the first time since winning Class D in 1994 – got ahead early and never slowed in downing Manton 62-35 to earn a spot in Saturday’s Class C championship game.

Koole’s dad Scott played on that 1994 team that beat Eben Junction Superior Central 79-70 in the championship game. Scott Koole also played with Dave Meulenberg on the 1993 team that beat Muskegon Western Michigan Christian 53-42 to win the Class D title that season as well.

“To just stay calm, keep your composure, play your best,” Carson Meulenberg recalled of the advice his father gave him before Thursday. “Don’t worry about a lot of things. A lot of it is worrying about nothing, so just go play your game.”

And Covenant Christian’s game this season frequently has focused on defense, which was lockdown against the Rangers and will be especially key in Saturday's 4:30 p.m. Final against Flint Beecher.

Koole blocked Manton’s first shot of the game, and Covenant Christian had three blocks during the first five minutes. The Rangers still hung in to trail only 11-7 at the end of the first quarter, but the Chargers (21-5) scored the first 19 points of the second and never led again by fewer than 20.

They held usually sharp-shooting Manton (21-5) to 22 percent success from the floor, including 16 percent from 3-point range.

“Finally,” Calvin Christian coach Tyler Schimmel said. “To be honest, since the first District game, we haven’t played that well. I told the guys before (this) game, you’re due for one, especially defensively.

“This year, we actually have (had games like this). That’s why I kept telling my guys they’re a good team. They’re capable of doing those types of things.”

Koole led Covenant Christian with a game-high 14 points and eight rebounds, and Meulenberg and junior forward Zach Kaptein both had 10 points. Senior guard Benji Kuiper had six points, seven rebounds, six assists and five steals, and junior Tyler Cammenga had nine points and seven rebounds.

Manton’s top three scorers this season were juniors and sophomores; junior Jayden Perry led again with 13 points, and junior Hunter Ruell had eight points.

“On film, we knew they were going to be athletic just by watching them,” Manton coach Ryan Hiller said. “Once they started getting offensive boards, and the transition game, and I don’t know how many shots they blocked that first half … through the first five minutes, we saw a trend there, and we had to adapt the things we normally do, and we struggled there.”

Manton was playing in its first Semifinal since 1996. The Rangers had been eliminated in the District Finals the last three seasons, losing those games by a combined seven points.

Covenant Christian is riding a streak of 14 wins in 15 games, and now has some bragging rights at home in addition to Saturday’s opportunity.

“He talks about it all the time to me, brags and says he made it this far,” Koole said of his dad's Finals memories. “Now I can go back to him and tell him I did the same thing.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Covenant Christian’s Benji Kuiper (12) works to get around Manton’s Jayden Perry during Thursday’s Semifinal. (Middle) The Rangers’ Wyatt Baker gets up a shot with the Chargers’ Carson Meulenberg (24) defending.

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.