Spring Break's Start Just Got Sweeter for Traverse City St. Francis

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

March 23, 2023

EAST LANSING — The seniors on the Traverse City St. Francis boys basketball team are going to have to change their spring break plans. 

Senior and leading scorer Wyatt Nausadis said a group of seniors on the team were originally supposed to leave later Thursday for a spring break trip to Destin, Fla., but a little something got in the way. 

That “little something” was a Division 3 Semifinal win over Niles Brandywine, as the Gladiators earned a 46-36 triumph. 

The victory advanced St. Francis to Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. championship game against Flint Beecher, a development that will shorten the spring break trip in a good way. 

“When was departure supposed to be?” St. Francis head coach Sean Finnegan said to his players in the postgame press conference. 

“Today,” Nausadis said. 

Finnegan then asked “When will departure now be?”

Nausadis then responded, “Sunday.”

Finnegan then smiled and said “perfect.”

The Gladiators hope their appearance in the Basketball Final will end differently than the Division 7 Football Final in November, when St. Francis lost to Jackson Lumen Christi, 15-12. 

“It would mean a lot,” said Nausadis, who was the quarterback on the football team. “Going into this school year, our goal was to win both football and basketball. We fell short in football. That first week of basketball was pretty rough for me and all the other football players. It was hard to enjoy. Once we started playing, we all were like, ‘It’s time to buy into this. Let’s win a state championship in this one. We’re one step closer.” 

Brandywine’s Jaremiah Palmer (3) defends as the Gladiators’ John Hagelstein works for a shot.Defense and Nausadis were the big edges Thursday for St. Francis, which limited Brandywine to 36.4-percent shooting from the field overall and a 2-of-13 performance from 3-point range. 

The Gladiators also held a 36-24 rebounding advantage. 

“Defense is our staple,” Finnegan said. “That’s where we put our pride and joy. Maybe not joy all the time, but that’s our pride. I believe we’ve given up over 40 one time in the tournament so far. We put a lot of attention and a lot of detail there. Our offense gets a lot easier when our defense is working and clicking how it should.”

Offensively, Nausadis led the way with 21 points and seven rebounds for St. Francis (24-4). 

Junior Jaremiah Palmer scored eight points to lead Brandywine (25-3), which was playing in the program's first Semifinal. 

“We just couldn’t get over the hump,” Brandywine head coach Nathan Knapp said. “We couldn’t finish some shots tonight. They didn’t go our way. I’m happy with these kids and the season they’ve had. It’s been an amazing run, and they play hard.”

Leading by three with 7:28 remaining, St. Francis scored six straight to grab a 41-32 lead with 3:11 left. 

Brandywine scored four straight to cut its deficit to five with 2:08 remaining, but a free throw by Nausadis with just under a minute left made it 42-36 St. Francis.

Following a Brandywine turnover, Nausadis hit another free throw with 49.4 seconds left to give St. Francis a seven-point lead.

After another Brandywine turnover, St. Francis all but sealed the game when John Hagelstein made a layup with 33.8 seconds left to make it 45-36 Gladiators. 

St. Francis now will turn its attention to the juggernaut that is Beecher.

However, the Gladiators enter with confidence not only because of their familiarity with the big stage after football season, but also because they played several larger schools during the summer and regular season.

Canton and Detroit Cass Tech are Division 1 schools St. Francis played at home this year. 

“I think that’s prepared them,” Finnegan said. “They know they can play with any team in the state. We just have to keep believing that and proving that when it happens.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Traverse City St. Francis’ Wyatt Nausadis gets a hand up as Brandywine’s Nylen Goins pulls up for a jumper Thursday. (Middle) Brandywine’s Jaremiah Palmer (3) defends as the Gladiators’ John Hagelstein works for a shot.

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.