Small Schools, Big Northern Lights Finish

By John Vrancic
Special for

February 29, 2016

HANNAHVILLE — Not too many high school conferences in Michigan have their own basketball tournament.

The Northern Lights League in the Upper Peninsula, however, is one of the exceptions to the rule.

Each year the league’s eight schools meet at Hannahville for their annual tourney.

“This is such a great tournament for our conference,” said Maplewood Baptist boys coach Steve May. “What an opportunity for small schools. These are the types of things these kids will never forget. This is their chance to shine. They get to experience March Madness, although it comes a little early.”

The tournament, traditionally held in late February, showcases all the talent these schools have to offer.

This year’s girls tourney featured the league’s first all-U.P. player in senior Hannah May, a second-team selection a year ago.

“This is really a nice tournament,” Hannah said. “All the small schools come together and make some new friendships. This is the highlight of the year. This gives us something to shoot for.”

Hannah May showed why she’s all-U.P. in the championship game Feb. 20, sinking a buzzer-beating 20-foot jumpshot from the right wing to force overtime in Maplewood’s 79-70 triumph over Wilson Nah Tah Wahsh.

She scored 35 points, and classmate Harmony Bailey added 24.

“We enjoy this tournament,” said Maplewood girls assistant coach Caroline May. “We look forward to it every year.”

Senior Selena Williams, looking to play ball at Gogebic Community College in Ironwood next season, led Hannahville with 26 points. Sophomore Cecilia Beaver added 23.

“I love our team,” said Beaver. “We all get along. We’re also real good friends with Maplewood Baptist, and we get along with the other teams. We’ve developed a lot of friendships.”

The Maplewood Baptist boys also captured the league tourney crown in a 73-54 conquest of Hannahville.

Senior Patrick Gomes scored 19 points for the Kinross-based school, which placed four in double-digits. Senior Cody Meshigaud paced the defending champs with 24.

The tournament provides plenty of opportunity for team bonding and camaraderie among all the teams.

“I like it and the kids enjoy it,” said Ojibwe Charter girls coach Ashley Bishop. “You see the upsets and victories. It’s nice to see all the teams get together. All the schools are very small, and I think the kids make better friends this way. At the motel we stayed at in Escanaba, we had kids and coaches from 4-5 schools hanging out together.”

Ojibwe boys coach Brandon Kerfoot believes the tournament is part of the learning process for a team with no seniors.

“I think being able to end the season with schools about our size is a big stepping stone for the kids,” he said. “It’s a different game once you hit the tournaments. Anything can happen once you reach this point.”

The Ojibwe boys started two juniors and a sophomore, freshman and eighth-grader in a 69-46 semifinal loss to Maplewood Baptist.

Ojibwe’s girls started two juniors, two sophomores and an eighth-grader in a 56-34 loss to Hannahville in the semifinals.

PHOTOS: (Top) A pair of Kinross Maplewood Baptist defenders surround a Wilson Nah Tah Wahsh player bringing the ball upcourt during the Northern Lights League Tournament. (Middle) A Maplewood defender works to wall off a Bay Mills Ojibwe Charter guard. (Photos by Paul Gerard.)

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.