No Need to Dazzle - Kent City Just Wins

March 8, 2018

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Kent City doesn’t have the star power or pizzazz normally associated with an undefeated basketball team.

In fact, the most flashy thing about the Eagles is the loud pants worn each game by third-year head coach Dave Ingles – which were an especially gaudy half-pink and half-burgundy disaster that would have made Al Czervik from Caddyshack blush during Wednesday’s 48-38 District Semifinal win over Muskegon Western Michigan Christian at Ravenna.

“I lost a bet with the kids last year and had to wear pink pants for a game,” explained Ingles, who has guided Kent City to a 21-0 record and improbable No. 2 state ranking in Class C.

“Since then, it’s become a thing. If I wore khaki pants to a game, our crowd would boo me out of the gym. So now I spend half my coaching salary and half my time finding pants for each game.”

If nothing else, they bring a little shine to an otherwise throwback, working-class basketball team devoid of superstars that just finds a way to win every game with suffocating defense, outstanding shooting and unselfish team play.

The Eagles pulled another one out Wednesday against tradition-rich Western Michigan Christian, which slowed the game to a crawl and led 15-12 at halftime. It looked like a monumental upset might be in the works as Kent City was stone cold from the field, and its standout backcourt duo of senior Fraser Wilson and sophomore Eli Carlson was held scoreless in the first half.

But just like they have all season, the Eagles stayed calm and found an answer.

This time it was a 10-0 run to start the second half, keyed by three steals on the defensive end and a pair of 3-pointers by Carlson, which turned the game around. KC then sealed the win by knocking down 14 of 16 free throws in the final 2:05.

“We definitely don’t panic or yell and scream at each other,” explained Wilson, who averages 14 points per game and shoots nearly 50 percent from 3-point range. “Our shots weren’t falling, but we stayed calm. We believe in each other.”

Kent City repeated as champion of the Central State Activities Association Silver, which isn’t known as a basketball-rich conference. More impressive is the Eagles won all 10 of their nonconference games, with nine of those 10 wins coming against Class A or Class B opponents.

Ingles points to his team’s 49-44 win Feb. 3 over Class A Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills, a game played in an arena environment at the DeltaPlex before a Grand Rapids Drive game, as a key to the season. The Eagles had to rally for that victory to get to 14-0, and ever since have experienced tournament-like pressure to get to 20-0.

Since they have been dealing with the extra scrutiny and the focus on winning every game for more than a month, Carlson said the team is more prepared for March Madness.

“The pressure was getting that 20-0,” explained Carlson, who also averages 14 points and shoots better than 50 percent from the floor. “Now, we were 0-0. Everyone is 0-0, starting a new season. We don’t take it as pressure.”

The question now is how high can the Eagles fly?

Kent City will be shooting for its 13th District championship since 1950 on Friday when it takes on West Michigan Conference champion North Muskegon at 6 p.m. at Ravenna. A victory there would vault the Eagles into the MHSAA Class C Regional tournament at Beal City next week.

The Eagles have won only one Regional title since 1950, in 2004, when they made it all the way to the Class C semifinals at Michigan State University before losing to Charlevoix.

The program has steadily improved each year since Ingles took the reins prior to the 2015-2016 season. KC finished 13-8 in 2016 and 14-7 last year, getting knocked out of the tournament both years by Muskegon Heights Academy, which is now in Class D.

The team was expected to be good this season after losing just one regular contributor off last year’s conference champion, but no one expected a quantum leap to 20-0 and a lofty state ranking.

“It’s special what this team has been able to do,” said Inglis, who is assisted by Phil Stevens and Gabe Hall. “This is not a physically impressive team in any way, shape or form. Our success starts with defense and with nobody caring about their own stats. They just want to win.”

The guard duo of Wilson and Carlson, along with senior Jace Dailey, has provided the leadership all season long. Brendan Geers, a 6-foot-3 junior, is the closest thing the Eagles have to a big man and a workhorse inside. Hunter Nelson, Cody Bowers, Gavin Mead, Miguel Arechiga and sophomore call-up Max Hudson are also key contributors.

Another key factor pushing this unbeaten team along is a rabid fan base, which has been packing “The Nest” at home games all year and is following its team in “Hoosiers”-like fashion now that the MHSAA Tournament has begun. Kent City fans packed the parking lot and gymnasium at Ravenna well before Wednesday’s 5:30 p.m. tip-off and are expected to do the same for Friday’s showdown against North Muskegon.

“There is definitely a buzz more than normal around town,” said Wilson after Wednesday’s District win. “It’s fun to be a part of it. We’ve got our perfect regular season already; now we’ll just see how long we can keep it going.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Senior Fraser Wilson, who is shooting almost 50 percent from 3-point range this season, surveys the defense. (Middle) Sophomore Eli Carlson is only 5-5 but has come up big as a leading scorer for Kent City this season with 14 points per game. (Below) Third-year Kent City coach Dave Ingles wears the net after the Eagles completed a 20-0 regular season March 1 with a victory over visiting Kentwood Grand River Prep. (Photos courtesy of Kent City Basketball/Mary Wilson.)

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.