Perez Poised to Lead Hudsonville Charge

December 18, 2019

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

HUDSONVILLE – Max Perez remembers the despair he and his Hudsonville teammates felt after a disheartening 61-60 loss to East Kentwood in last season’s Division 1 Regional Final.

The Eagles stormed back from a 19-point second-half deficit only to watch their season end in the closing seconds.

Hudsonville hopes to use the defeat as a rallying cry for this season.

“The motivation we have going into the season is really high. … We were that close to going to the Quarterfinals, which only three other Hudsonville teams had done,” Perez said. “We beat them twice (in the regular season) and they got us when it counted, so that really stung us.”

Although their postseason run ended prematurely, the Eagles still won 22 games and captured the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red championship. 

Perez, a 5-foot-10 point guard, played a major role in the team’s success despite missing nine games with a broken thumb.

That was the first time the four-year varsity player had suffered an injury that forced him to sit out for an extended period of time. 

“It was really tough, then I got the news that I would be out six weeks. But I just knew that I couldn’t get down on myself, and I would be back,” Perez said. “I just had to pick up my teammates every day in practice and encourage them and stay positive.”

Perez will be the floor general for an Eagles’ squad that has eight seniors, including 6-foot-7 Justin DeGraaf, who moved back to Hudsonville after five years living in Indiana.

Through an intense passion for the game and a strong work ethic, Perez has made giant strides since beginning his high school career as an undersized freshman on the varsity.

“I think my game has improved a lot,” Perez said. “I’m stronger now, I’m bigger now and I’ve really worked on my game. I’ve implemented more of a drive game because when I was a freshman I was small and just stayed on the 3-point line and shot jumpers.

“As the years have gone on, I’ve become more mature and added more of an arsenal to my game while also improving my defense, which was important to me.”

Hudsonville coach Eric Elliott also has seen Perez’ progression, and it’s been even more evident entering this season.

“I’ve seen a ton of growth in all aspects and every year he has grown up as a player and matured, but I think the largest leap has been from last year to this year and it’s been significant,” Elliott said. “He’s stronger and more mature, and he’s more of a calming force than in the past. He seems more at ease and relaxed.”

Perez, who averaged 15 points per game last season, has had a basketball in his hands since before he could walk.

Through the years, he’s attended numerous camps, played on successful travel teams and spent countless hours in the gym fine-tuning his pure jump shot.

“He’s more than a classic gym rat; he’s non-stop in the gym and on the gun, and there’s no doubt that it has made him a very good basketball player and an incredible shooter,” Elliott said. “He’s an extremely confident kid and a confident shooter, and that comes from repetition and time spent in the gym.”

Perez’ dedication recently helped him fulfill a goal he’s had since middle school.

Last week he committed to Indiana Tech, an NAIA school, on a full-ride scholarship.

“They showed me love since day one, and they were my first offer,” Perez said. “I love the coaching staff, their facilities and campus and I love the guys. I think it will be a great help for the season just to know that I’m playing for my team and not doing anything for myself since I’ve already committed to college.

“I can focus on the season and winning, and I think we can go a long way with this talented senior group.”

Elliott is thrilled for Perez to get the opportunity to play at the next level.

“I’m incredibly happy for Max,” he said. “Anytime you see a kid that puts in the time and the energy and the passion that he has, and then to see him get rewarded, as a coach, it’s awesome to see. I’m excited that he could make a decision now so he can totally relax and can just play now. He has that behind him.”

Perez scored 21 points in a season-opening win over Godwin Heights. It was a solid start for a team that has lofty aspirations.

“Our goal is to win the conference and win Districts, but we know how good teams are around us and the O-K Red is brutal,” Elliott said. “We have high expectations, and we feel like we can beat anybody on any given night. However, we also feel like we can be beaten by anybody. We have some things to work on, but we are very excited.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at[email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTO: Point guard Max Perez directs the offense for Hudsonville. (Photo courtesy of the Hudsonville athletic department.)

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.