Tradition-Rich Kingston Adding to Legacy

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

January 31, 2018

Camryn MacGuire remembers watching Kingston varsity basketball games and dreaming about the day she could be on the court.

Evan Neff enjoyed going to games so much as a kid, he kept coming back even after his family moved away for a few years while he was in middle school.

Now both are leading the way for the Cardinals on the court as the Kingston girls and boys basketball teams are inspiring another group of youngsters in their small town.

“I know a lot of little kids come to our games and are huge fans,” said Neff, a sophomore on the boys team. “I know I’ve talked to a couple eighth graders, and they say they can’t wait to play on varsity with me their sophomore year. I think a lot of the littler kids can’t wait to be a part of it.”

Basketball is king in Kingston, and this winter, Cardinals fans have plenty to cheer about. The girls team was 12-0 heading into Wednesday night’s game against Croswell-Lexington, and ranked No. 1 in Class D by the Detroit Free Press and No. 2 by The Associated Press.

The boys started the season on a nine-game winning streak, and are 11-2.

“I think it’s the same thing wherever you’re going to: if you’re winning, if you’re putting a good product out there, you’re going to see a lot of people there,” boys coach Dave Lester said. “In our little town, it seems like everybody is there for the girls games and guys games. We’ve got a great, great student body. Our home games are electric. It’s a fun atmosphere. It’s fun to coach, and it’s gotta be fun to play.

“It’s what high school sports are all about. I think that atmosphere attracts your younger athletes to want to be a part of it. If they’re there and seeing us win, that’s contagious.”

Lester and girls coach Jay Green have been part of it for the better part of the past three decades, first as players for Kingston and now as coaches.

They played together in the late 1980s, and in Green’s senior year, he helped the boys team reach the MHSAA Quarterfinals.

Green returned to coach the girls team and win four District titles in four years – along with his brother, Dave – during the late 90s. Lester took over the girls program in 2003 and coached the team to the Quarterfinal. The Greens came back to the program in 2011, and Lester took over the boys team midway through the 2013-14 season.

“I think there’s probably a little more passion toward what you do, and what you’re trying to instill into the girls and the boys because you are an alumni,” Jay Green said. “I think both of us could say we were successful alumni in the past. And we both learned under coach Leon Westover when we played, then developed our own ideas, and we have that pride of seeing both the boys and girls doing well.”

Green credits his team’s current success, in part, to the parents in the program, who have taken the time to get their girls to the gym for years and been supportive throughout.

MacGuire agreed.

“My parents, and a bunch of the girls on my team’s parents were always pushing us, and always getting us to play as much as we could,” the point guard said. “They were always telling us that big things were coming. Our starting five is all juniors, and we’ve been playing together since the fourth grade or third grade.”

Kingston’s girls aren’t focused too much on the rankings, or the record, but more on preparing themselves for the postseason. They’ve already scored a win against Class C power Sandusky, and the game against Cros-Lex will provide a test against a strong Class B program. A game against another Class B school, Yale, was postponed because of weather this past Monday.

“I love playing bigger schools,” MacGuire said. “It gives you more competition, and you get to push yourself even more; then it’s even better if you come out with the win. It’s going to benefit us in the tournament.”

Their classmates are providing plenty of support to both teams. MacGuire said there’s been a buzz in the hallways all season, and both she and Neff said their teams make sure to cheer each other on whenever their schedules allow.

“I never really watched girls basketball until seventh or eighth grade when we moved back to Kingston,” Neff said. “I remember watching those teams, and I was really impressed. My eighth grade year, they had like four or five freshmen on varsity, and I knew they were going to be outstanding. Those girls work really hard, and they’re great athletes.”

“We try to make it to as many (boys) games as we can, even the road games,” MacGuire said. “We support each other both ways. It’s a good atmosphere.”

No Kingston team has ever been beyond the Quarterfinals, but the conference and District championships have piled up through the years. And as dedicated players keep walking into the program, it could just be a matter of time before a group of them breaks through.

“It’s just a tradition here, and our kids know it,” Lester said. “When you walk into our gym, there’s tons and tons of basketball banners. We really talk about tradition and how it would be great to continue that tradition and put up more banners.

“Obviously, we would like to make a long run. At some point, you want to win a state championship, but it’s a process. We’ve got some kids who were playing a lot of basketball, putting a lot of time into it. They want to win, and they want to be a part of that tradition.”

Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Kingston’s Carley Smith, left, pushes the ball upcourt while junior Nathan Cloyd, right, launches a shot. (Middle) Gerilyn Carpenter looks for open teammates during a game this season. (Below) Sophomore Evan Neff works to get around a Bad Axe defender. (Photos by Spot On By Shari.)

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.