North Central Legend Continues to Grow
February 8, 2017
By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half
ESCANABA – There was no drama because the game had virtually been decided by halftime, so the North Central Jets merely exchanged hugs and pats on the back after erasing a 59-year-old state record Jan. 27.
The Jets shelled neighbor and arch-rival Bark River-Harris 76-29 for their 66th consecutive win. That snapped the MHSAA record set for consecutive wins by fellow Upper Peninsula quintet Chassell from 1956-58, and they reportedly carry the longest active winning streak in the nation with 69 straight victories.
The capacity-plus crowd of about 1,000 cheered the record-setting performance, but the running clock had been going since the first minute of the third quarter and everyone knew the only thing to be determined was the final score.
The only other major excitement also came early, when Jets senior Dawson Bilski converted a three-point play with 17 seconds left in the first half to enter the 1,000-point club. He finished the night with 21 points and 1,002 career points.
The build-up to the win streak had taken precedence over Bilski’s approach primarily because this time of the season spawns several 1,000-point producers, while Chassell’s iconic mark had been in the discussion stages since North Central won its second straight Class D championship in March.
The Jets broke the record the same way they have waltzed through the past four seasons, with stifling defense, balanced scoring and another dunk by 2016 Associated Press Class D Player of the Year Jason Whitens.
Surprisingly some on-lookers have downplayed North Central’s streak, with coach Adam Mercier indicating there were questions about the competitive level of the schedule. Mercier simply pointed out the Jets were 4-0 in back-to-back trips to MHSAA Finals weekend at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center en route to consecutive Class D championships.
Teams can only play the schedule given them, and North Central is enjoying a fourth straight unbeaten regular season, in a conference annually considered the most competitive and balanced in the Upper Peninsula. The only loss during that span came March 18, 2014, when Cedarville won a Class D Quarterfinal 81-79 in Marquette.
The Jets own a 78-game regular season winning streak and are a stunning 94-1 since 2013-14. Their last regular season loss was Feb. 18, 2013, against Munising.
While the regular season success is hard enough to fathom, building a winning streak that is into its third straight season with a different cast each time helps put the record in better perspective.
Not only have the Jets defeated teams in their conference and their region, they have rolled through the district, regional and state tourney rounds unchecked.
In 2014-15, the Jets were 7-0 in the postseason highlighted by lopsided victories over Fulton (71-46) and Morenci (67-47) in East Lansing.
In 2015-16, the Jets were 8-0 in the postseason, crushing Fulton (64-23) and Waterford Our Lady (59-48) at the Breslin Center.
Perhaps the biggest question may never be answered. Will anyone eclipse North Central’s record, wherever it ends? After all, it took 59 years to surpass Chassell’s vaunted 65-win figure. If the Jets reach 80 straight, and the chance of that happening is pretty good, what are the odds of anyone else being that fortunate? This is a record that could realistically never be exceeded with just about everything stacked against such an attempt as the seasons unfold.
While the Jets now possess the state record boys streak, they are only second among schools in Menominee County for the longest win streak in state history.
Carney-Nadeau High School, just six miles south of Powers, owns the state girls record of 78 straight wins (from 1989-91). The Wolves won an amazing 127 consecutive regular season games until falling to Cooks Big Bay de Noc in 1993.
Even more astonishing, North Central and its 115 students own the MHSAA record of 26 straight victories in 8-player football. The Jets, with many athletes on that team who also play basketball, have won the past two 8-player football championships to cap back-to-back 13-0 finishes to the only seasons they have played that version of the gridiron game.
Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.
PHOTO: The North Central Jets hold a banner marking their state record 66th consecutive boys basketball victory Jan. 27 after beating Bark River-Harris 76-29. Chassell held the mark of 65 straight wins that was set from 1956-58.
Past Teams of the Month, 2016-17
December: Dundee boys basketball - Report
November: Rockford girls swimming & diving - Report
October: Rochester girls golf - Report
September: Breckenridge football - Report
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.
But 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 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 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.