Pirates sail into first Final since 1993

March 20, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Nick Spitzley, no doubt like the other eight seniors on Pewamo-Westphalia’s basketball team, dreamed growing up of playing for an MHSAA championship.

He needed to use his imagination, since the first and only time the Pirates did play for a Class C title was in 1993, a few years before he was born.

“Obviously we always came out on top,” Spitzley recalled. “Making a lot of shots, and I was always getting pumped up with my team.

“Since I was little, it’s always been a dream, and it’s come true. We’ve been playing together since fifth grade, maybe before that.”

P-W’s seniors are halfway through the final weekend of their high school careers and more than halfway to making that dream come true.

The No. 10-ranked Pirates advanced to Saturday’s Class C final by defeating No. 9 Muskegon Heights 54-44 in the first Semifinal on Thursday at the Breslin Center. P-W’s nine seniors will get to play in the final game of the season for the first time in school history, at 4:30 p.m. against No. 2 Detroit Consortium.

Pewamo-Westphalia will become the second straight team from the Central Michigan Athletic Conference to play for the Class C title, and third in eight seasons. Laingsburg fell in last year’s Final by a point, 40-39, to Flint Beecher. Bath won the Class C title in 2007.

Also from the CMAC, Fulton was Class D runner-up in 2011 and Fowler finished the same in 2002.

The Pirates had to come back over the final minute to beat Beecher in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal, and made it two-for-two against some of the state’s most storied programs by then eliminating Heights, which played in its 22nd Semifinal and fourth over the last five seasons.

P-W has won 81 percent of its games under coach Luke Pohl during two tenures over a combined 17 seasons. But the Pirates haven't had the chance to add the championship game chapter to their story in more than two decades.

“Knowing we had to beat a team like Flint Beecher and Muskegon Heights, with the history behind those schools, in unbelievable,” Pohl said. “If you follow our league, you’ve seen how many times the league has been here the last 10 years. It’s rock ‘em, sock ‘em basketball in the wintertime, and we’ve got great coaches there – those kind of guys sharpen my skills as a coach. But you’ve gotta have players to win, and we’ve got really good players.”

Spitzley is a four-year starter, one of the top scorers in school history, and did his part Thursday with 22 points and eight rebounds.

But the Semifinal win was truly a full senior effort, as all six players who saw time were 12th graders and a pair added big plays to Spitzley’s game-high scoring surge.

The first came 1 minute, 14 seconds into the second half with the Pirates trailing by a point. Guard Evan Fedewa scored and was fouled on his way to the hoop, and hit the ensuing free throw to give the Pirates a 29-27 lead. They would never trail again.

But Muskegon Heights came close to taking back the lead. The Tigers (20-4) pulled within four with 4:20 to play when P-W center Lane Simon was fouled on a score and also made the following free throw to push the lead back to 46-39 and seemingly drain the last bit of momentum from Heights’ comeback run.

Simon added 17 points, 10 rebounds, and both Fedewa and Kyle Nurenberg grabbed nine rebounds for the Pirates.

Junior Antonio Jones led Muskegon Heights with 16 pints, and senior Eddrick Tornes added 12. Jones made what could be one of the shots of the tournament, a spinning pull-up jumper thrown up without a look at the basket. But overall, his team shot just 24 percent from the floor including 14 percent as P-W pulled away during the second half.

Still, the return run was an accomplishment coach Dalrecus Stewart made sure to note. The Tigers have been here plenty of times, but this one was a little different – the school closed after spring 2012 and re-opened that fall as a public school academy.

“I know (my players) are feeling hurt, but this was a little bit more than a basketball game for us with all of the things that have gone on in our city as well as our school district the last few years,” Stewart said. “The championship they won today was about bringing hope to despair. They are a shining bright spot and what they’ve done is beyond measure. They’re my champions.”

Click for a full box score and video from the press conference

PHOTOS: (Top) P-W’s Lane Simon (1) goes to the rim during Thursday’s Semifinal win over Muskegon Heights. (Middle) P-W's Nick Spitzley works to get past Muskegon Height's Eddrick Tornes.

HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Muskegon Heights’ Aaron Sydnor (3) wins the tip-up battle to score late in the first half against Pewamo-Westphalia. (2) Pewamo-Westphalia opened the second half with a 17-3 run. Lane Simon drives for two during that spurt.

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.

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.