Sizable Fremont Has Big-Time Aspirations

December 5, 2018

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Fremont is synonymous with babies, as the founding home of Gerber Products and host of the National Baby Food Festival each July.

Some of those babies grow up to be giants – as evidenced by this year’s Fremont Packers boys basketball team.

Senior Logan Karnemaat (6-foot-10) and junior Tristan Campbell (6-8) are the twin towers whose presence sets the tone on both ends of the court for the Packers, who are off to a 2-0 start and have high hopes for the rest of the season.

“I guess you could say we ate all of our baby food, and someone must have put some Miracle-Gro in there, too,” Karnemaat said with a laugh.

Karnemaat knows all about fertilizer as a third-generation farmer. He spends much of his time when he’s not in school or playing basketball working on his family’s 3,000-acre farm operation, which includes crops and livestock.

His life goal has always been to get a business degree and return to run the family farm, with playing basketball almost an afterthought.

When pressed on the subject, he said that both Grace Christian and Calvin College in Grand Rapids have shown interest in him, then quickly added: “There are two more I can’t think of off the top of my head.”

Karnemaat is clearly more focused on making the most out of his senior basketball season, which shows signs of great promise after an impressive 45-35 win Tuesday night at Ludington, which made it all the way to the MHSAA Class B Final in 2017.

 “I’d say that was our biggest road win in 10-12 years,” said Fremont coach Peter Zerfas, who is now in his 19th year. “It was how we did it. Ludington is a very good team, but we came out with confidence and we were the more aggressive team.”

The scorebook does not tell the true story of the game, as Campbell scored only seven points and Karnemaat just five. The real story was the rebounding and shot-blocking of the twin towers – Karnemaat finished with 10 rebounds and Campbell had five blocked shots, with both of them altering and contesting countless others.

As a result of their presence, Ludington suffered through one of its worst offensive nights in recent memory, scoring just 18 total points over the first three quarters. Senior standout Josh Laman, who nailed the memorable 3-pointer in the Class B Semifinals two seasons ago to send the Orioles to the championship game, had no field goals in the first half and just 10 total points.

Fremont senior forwards Calvin Miller (11 points) and Julian Echavarria, who also have good size at 6-5 and 6-3, respectively, also contributed on both ends of the court.

Zerfas said the key to the big win was the play of his young guards, particularly junior starters Carter Moon (13 points) and Jaxx Miller, who held up under Ludington’s relentless full-court pressure during the second half.

“We have four young guards, and how well they develop will be the key for us this season,” said Zerfas, whose youngest son, sophomore Joshua Zerfas, is one of those young backcourt players. “We have the size and we have some depth, so if those guards keep coming like they are, we have a chance to be really good.”

Zerfas has the Packers competing at a championship level after back-to-back down years in 2015-16 (6-16) and 2016-17 (13-8). Basketball is a big deal in this small town, which has had some great runs in cross country but for the most part is known for baby food, farming and hoops.

Fremont has won a pack of conference and District championships, but Regionals has generally been the end of the road. In fact, the last time Fremont won a Regional championship was 1956, before losing to Stephenson that winter in the Class B Quarterfinals.

Shortly after Zerfas took over as coach in 2000, Fremont had a string of five consecutive District titles, with longtime nemesis Muskegon Heights ending the Packers’ run at the regional level in four of those five years.

Fremont fought its way back to Regionals last winter, before being humbled by Grand Rapids South Christian and finishing with a 17-7 record.

The Packers feel like they have even more pieces in place this winter and are eager to start work towards their first goal, a Central States Activities Association Gold championship, when they open league play Friday night at Reed City.

Karnemaat, who led Fremont with 14 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots per game last season, can’t wait for back-to-back home games next week against Montague and Sparta.

While he spends much of his time working in relative solitude on the family farm, there’s nothing he enjoys more than the contrast of playing basketball in front of a rowdy home crowd.

“Our students and our community come out and supports us, and it really helps,” Karnemaat said. “We have a good team, but then to have 2,000 fans behind you and get you going, I love it.”

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) Fremont 6-10 senior center Logan Karnemaat holds the ball up high, well out of the reach of two Shelby defenders, during a 75-50 season-opening win Nov. 27. (Middle) Fremont sophomore Braiden McDonald, one of the contributors off the Packers' deep bench, drives to the basket. (Photos by Russell Tindall.)

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.