Prestons Lead Hackett to Perfect Starts

By Pam Shebest
Special for

January 19, 2016

KALAMAZOO — Dane Preston has had plenty of fun jamming the basketball through the hoop in practice, but never had the confidence to do it in a game.

That all changed earlier this season when the 6-foot-3 senior streaked down the court and brought the cheering crowd to its feet with a two-handed dunk in Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep’s game against Otsego in December.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities before where I just didn’t feel comfortable doing it,” he said. “You want to make sure you score.

“I saw pictures from last year where I was so far above (the rim) and I was like, why didn’t I just try to dunk it? You’ve just got to get it in your mind to do it.”

Preston, who averages a team-high 19 points per game, is one reason why the Irish are off to a 6-0 start on the season. But he’s not the only hoops whiz in the family.

His sister, Sydney, 5-foot-9, averages a team-high 16 ppg on the girls team that, at 9-0, is off to its best start in years.

That makes for some rather interesting “can you top this” discussions at home.

“Every single game we played, we get home and she’s like, ‘I scored 18 points,’ and I’m like, ‘I had 20,’” Dane Preston said, laughing. “It’s just like a battle; it’s vicious.”

The pair have a hoop outside at home, and “he usually beats me, but I beat him in H-O-R-S-E a couple times,” his sister said. “Good competition. He doesn’t go easy on me.”

The two may be extremely competitive in basketball, but off the court they have a close relationship forged by a catastrophic event early in their lives.

Their father, Gary, died from a heart attack when Dane was 4 and Sydney 1½.

“I wore number 22 at the Courthouse (Athletic Center, for youth basketball), 14 in 7th and 8th grades, but when I got to high school I decided to wear number 4 because there’s a meaning behind it,” Preston said, referring to his age when he lost his father. “It’s always good to put a meaning behind something that means a lot to you.”

Although his sister was younger when they lost their father, she wears the same number.

“Dane picked 4 a long time ago, and I kinda wanted to be like him,” she said.

Runs in the family

The two come by their basketball prowess naturally.

Their mother, Amy Reisterer Preston, was on the seventh grade team at Kalamazoo St. Mary’s when she was in fifth grade. She played at Comstock High School and one year at Hope College before concentrating on track her four years there.

When her daughter was in third grade, Preston started coaching her team and has moved up the ranks with her.

After coaching the junior varsity girls last year, Amy is currently the assistant varsity coach, working with her uncle, head coach Nib Reisterer.

That’s not a problem for her daughter — usually.

“I like it for the most part,” Sydney said. “You can let go to my mom because she’s a woman, so it’s easier to talk to her (than a male coach). I think it’s fun to have her on the team. 

“My family’s always been some sort of my coach in basketball. Sometimes I don’t like it, but most of the time I do.”

Fridays make life a lot easier for the family.

That’s when both teams play at the same venue. Tuesdays they play at opposite sites.

“I get to have my game with Sydney, then relax and watch Dane,” their mother said of Fridays.

“The balancing act has been a little bit of a struggle for me,” Amy Preston added. “Dane’s a senior this year, so I don’t want to miss half his season, but yet I’m torn.

“I feel like my role with the girls is important, for all the girls, not just Sydney. If I’m not at the games, I feel like there’s a missing link there. I told Dane if there are any games he really needs or wants me to be at on a Tuesday night, I will be there. He just needs to let me know.”

Sizable advantages

At 6-3, Dane Preston isn’t close to being the tallest player on his Class C Southwestern Athletic Conference team.

Senior Riley Gallagher and junior Teddy Oosterbaan are both 6-7 and lead the team in dunks.

“Riley’s had three, and Teddy’s had three,” Dane said. “Teddy’s athletic and Riley’s just really tall. It’s easier for them.”

In addition, 6-1 senior starter Jack Dales is second in team scoring with 16 ppg.

“Me, Jack and Riley have been together since first grade,” Dane said. “We have some chemistry together. Our offense is really explosive.”

The offense exploded Friday in the fourth quarter in a matchup of unbeatens with Hackett eking out a hard-fought 54-48 win against crosstown rival Kalamazoo Christian.

Said Gallagher: “We have what every team needs: a person at every position that can help. 

“Teddy at the center. He’s one of the biggest kids in the league. Me at forward, (sophomore) Jacob (Niesen) or (sophomore) Casey (Gallagher) at three and Dane and Jack at point guard.”

Dales said everyone contributes and “Dane brings extreme scoring and hard work to the team.”

Mark Haase, who coached at Three Rivers, Otsego and Berrien Springs before taking over at Hackett this season, added: “In 17 years of coaching, this is probably the best chemistry I’ve ever had. They enjoy themselves, they enjoy each other. You can tell they’re having fun.

“They’re very unselfish and have very good chemistry and obviously some good players, too. I’ve coached at two Class B schools, and these four (Preston, Dales, Riley Gallagher, Oosterbaan) could play at any one of them.”

Haase said Preston is the serious one.

“Not in a bad way,” he quickly added. “Jack and Riley and Teddy are a little more loose. Dane has always wanted to be a good player, and he’s become a good player. Basketball means a lot to him.

“If there’s a big shot, he’s probably the guy who’s going to take it. He’s a good team player. He understands when to shoot and when not to shoot. A great scorer, a pretty good passer and he’s developed into a better defender.”

Andrew Marshall, A.J. Estes, Bryant Neal and Kieran O’Brien are the other seniors on the team.

Juniors are T.J. Krawczyk, Adam Wheaton, Donovan Kelly and Luke DeClercq.

One of Preston’s goals is to reach 1,000 career points. He has 716 so far.

Another is to end the season playing for an MHSAA title, something the Irish haven’t accomplished in 80 years.

Strength despite low numbers

Although there are just nine players on the girls varsity, “All the players we have are really good,” said captain Maura Gillig, the only senior on the team. “Our bench can come in and be really good.”

Two players top Sydney Preston’s 5-9 height. Junior Hope Baldwin is 5-11 and Gillig 5-10. Sophomore Savannah Madden measures 5-8.

“We have a really strong defensive team,” Preston said. “We have some key shooters. We have a good mix of girls.

“Savannah went to St. A’s (St. Augustine) and I went to St. Monica, so we played against each other (before high school). Last year we finally got to play with each other (on junior varsity). We really clicked, then she got moved up to varsity.”

Said Gillig: “Sydney brings a lot of intensity. She loves to play and brings a lot of energy onto the court.

“She’s always one of the players that if we ever need a steal or a play to bring us back in the game, she’s the one who will get it. She’s competitive, but she’s really encouraging to everyone.”

Juniors on the team are Emily Matthews, Cierra Barker, Naomi Keyte and Molly Panico. The other sophomore is Jessie Wenzel.

With just one senior this year, “I think we’ve got a really bright future here,” Reisterer said.

Amy Preston, who took a break from coaching to earn her master’s degree in exercise science, rejoined the coaching ranks when her daughter was in third grade. 

“Being the mom part, I know my daughter’s potential,” she said. “I tend to be a little tougher on her and have higher expectations because I know what her potential is. 

“That’s probably hard for her because she probably feels I’m picking on her more than the other girls. It’s kind of a fine line. It’s important for me not to show favoritism, too.”

Reisterer played basketball at Hackett, graduating in 1972, and coached Amy in seventh and eighth grades at St. Mary’s school.

Talking about his great niece, Reisterer said: “Sydney gives us a player who can finish at the backboard, and she can hit an outside shot. She can drive, she makes her free throws, so she’s got a well-rounded game.

“Her rebounding has improved dramatically and her defense is getting better. She’s discovering what she can do on the court. She’s like a sponge. She’s soaking it all in.”

Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She continues to freelance for covering mainly Kalamazoo Wings hockey and can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Sydney Preston, left, fires a shot against Kalamazoo Christian, while brother Dane Preston gets a look against Otsego. (Head shots) Sydney Preston, Dane Preston, Amy Preston. (Middle) Dane Preston looks for an opening. (Below) Sydney Preston brings the ball upcourt. (Girls photos and head shots by Pam Shebest; boys photos by Scott Dales.)

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.