No Close Call This Time for Romulus

March 22, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Romulus made three trips to the MHSAA Semifinals from 2008-12, and missed out on three championship game berths by a combined five points.

How focused are the Eagles on finishing the job this time around? Consider how they started and finished Thursday’s 76-67 Semifinal victory over Grand Rapids Christian.

Romulus jumped out to a 10-0 lead over the first two minutes from which Christian never recovered. And after the final buzzer, it was impossible to tell which team had just earned a chance to play for the Class A championship.

“We all know what it feels like (from) when we lost to Rockford (last season). We know we should’ve won,” Romulus senior E.C. Matthews said. “We’re all playing with a chip on our shoulders. Everybody came in with a mentality to win.”

Romulus (26-1) will face either reigning champion Saginaw or Detroit Southeastern in Saturday’s noon Final. It will be the first championship game for Romulus since falling by three to Holt in 2005.

Romulus reached the Semifinals in 2008, 2009 and 2012, losing by two in overtime and then by one in each of the next two games, respectively. Romulus also made the Quarterfinals in 2011. It does own one championship, from 1986.

“It feels good to finally get back to the championship. … These guys have kinda made that their goal,” said Romulus coach Nate Oats, who has led the program to all but its first trip to the Finals. “They’ve worked extremely hard to put themselves in the spot they’ve put themselves in.

"We’re a lot more focused. We’ve got pretty mature kids who come in with a business-like mindset.”

And that effort this time was led by Matthews, who has signed with Rhode Island. Oats said he’ll play point guard at the college level, but Romulus has a college-caliber point guard too in Missouri recruit Wesley Clark. So Oats moved Matthews to wing this season, and he more than doubled his team-leading scoring average (16.2) on Thursday, finishing with 37 points on 17 of 26 shooting from the floor. As a team, Romulus made 48 percent of its shots and scored 20 points on the fastbreak.

Clark had seven points but eight rebounds and nine assists, and 6-foot-8 Louisiana Tech signee Leonardo Edwards had 12 points and nine rebounds manning the post.

But similarly clutch was senior guard Lowell Wade, who was responsible much of the game for covering Grand Rapids Christian junior Drake Harris.

The hero of the Division 4 Football Final in November, Harris has seemingly upped his already-substantial game to go along with Christian’s recovery from a 2-4 start and run to East Lansing. He had 25 points in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal win over Muskegon and scored 25 more in the Semifinal – which he said was his final high school basketball game as he plans to enroll early at whichever college he chooses to continue his football career.

Two of Harris’ points pulled Grand Rapids Christian within six of the lead with 5:29 to play. But that was the closest he and his Eagles got during the game’s final 12 minutes.

“Drake’s been a go-to guy, a tough matchup. They forced us into some tough shots, but it was one of those nights,” Grand Rapids Christian coach Steve Majerle said. “If we did it all over again, we’d probably do the same thing, just do it better. They did better what they do than we did what we do.”

Junior Dwayne Barfield added 12 points, seven rebounds and seven steals for Christian, and junior DaRohn Scott had 11 points and seven rebounds.

Grand Rapids Christian finished 20-7 and won 10 straight before Thursday. “If you’d seen where we started and where we ended, it was like night and day,” Majerle said. “If you saw our first game, we’re not the same team.”

Romulus, which entered the tournament ranked No. 2, was able to avoid a letdown after beating No. 1 Detroit Pershing in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal. Now back in a Final, the Eagles will be sure to remain even keeled in preparation for hoisting a championship trophy.

“We’re not that high. We were here last year, so we know what it feels like,” Matthews said. “We’re listening to Oats. He’s leading us. He’s telling us all the right things.” 

Click for a full box score. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Romulus' Wesley Clark (right) tries to get up a shot around Grand Rapids Christian's Davaris Collier (3). (Middle) Romulus' E.C. Matthews (right) prepares to drive against Christian's Joel Zwiers (34). (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.