Twins X 2 Boost Unbeaten Mattawan

By Pam Shebest
Special for

January 22, 2019

MATTAWAN — With two sets of twins on his team, seeing double is nothing new for Mattawan boys basketball coach Ward Helakoski.

Jaden and Kelby Mabin are fraternal twins, but Matthew and Luke Pelak are identical. Telling the latter two apart was never much trouble for Helakoski, a Mattawan Middle School counselor who has known them since sixth grade, because Matthew and Luke were different sizes.

Then this year happened.

“Matt’s caught up (to Luke) this year, so that’s created some confusion,” Helakoski said. “They came in off the summer both tan from golfing,

“Hair was exactly the same. You’d almost have to look at them to see which was which. That was tougher for a while.”

Helakoski has figured it out, and the two sets of twins have found their best ways to contribute to Mattawan’s 10-0 start this winter.

The twins are four of eight seniors on the team and keys to the Wildcats’ success so far, said Helakoski, in his sixth year coaching the team. The Mabins and Matthew Pelak are starters, while Luke Pelak is first off the bench.

Between them, the Pelaks average 14 points, five rebounds and three assists per game. The Mabins combine for 13.2 points, eight rebounds and three assists.

And being a twin has its advantages, all four say.

Jaden Mabin said it is not so much the double looks he and his brother get, but “It’s just fun having a brother who’s been there with you for years right by your side.

“We always want to see each other do the best. We’re always competing. I want to get more points than you, I want to make more shots than you. It’s kind of a friendly rivalry.”

Kelby Mabin, quick with a quip, does not quite agree.

“He might think we have competition, but we don’t,” he said of his twin. “It’s a one-sided battle if it is.

“I do outscore him; I do outplay him. It’s not competition,” he added, laughing.

The Mabins have three older siblings, and Kelby is the youngest of the two by three minutes. The Pelaks are the middle two of 11 children and the only twins, with Matthew the older of the two.

The Pelaks use their friendly rivalry to keep each other sharp on the court. “We always guard each other in practice and take it at each other,” Luke Pelak said.

But being identical can be confusing to opponents and referees.

“It’s obviously a lot of fun,” Luke said. “Even my parents confuse us sometimes if we’re facing the other way.

“Kids on the court actually confuse us, too. They’ll get in arguments about who’s guarding who.”

Mattawan is anchored by 6-foot-10 Division I college prospect Nolan Foster, and has been augmented this season by the addition of 6-4 senior guard Dexter Shouse, another Division I recruit whose father Dexter played a season in the NBA and overseas.

Mattawan has a one-game lead on Stevensville Lakeshore in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West and finishing second to Kalamazoo Central in the SMAC East last winter. Jaden Mabin said a key is the team has really stepped it up on defense – the Wildcats have allowed only Lakeshore to score 50 points, and that was in a double overtime win earlier this month. He added that the team has upped its tempo as it looks to improve on last season’s 15-7 finish.

Luke Pelak adds a boost off the bench, and brother Matthew said he admires his brother’s composure as the sixth man.

“It was kind of tough seeing him not being able to start because I know how good he is, but I think he took it really well and he’s playing his role this year,” he said.

While all four enjoy the twin thing, all four are going to different colleges this fall. Of the four, only Kelby Mabin is hoping to play basketball.

“I love the talent it requires,” said Mabin, who has not yet settled on a college destination. “I feel that unlike other sports, you have to play defense and offense but you also have to have the IQ.

“It’s not just running the ball up and down the field and whoever has the most endurance, but who has the most skill and talent and athleticism.”

Jaden Mabin grew up thinking he would play basketball in college and beyond. But he opted for a football scholarship to Grand Valley State University instead although he received Division III basketball interest.

“It would be cool (to go to the same school as Kelby), but I want to be myself,” said Jaden Mabin. “I don’t want to be referred to as ‘Jaden-Kelby.’ I want ‘Jaden.’ I’ve been with him long enough.

“It’s been 17 years, so I think it’s time for us to be apart. A lot of twins dress alike. That’s not us. I want to be as opposite him as possible.”

The Pelaks are both headed to college on golf scholarships, Luke to Wayne State and Matthew to Eastern Michigan.

“It will be the first time we’re separated,” Matthew Pelak said. “It was more just wanting to have our own experiences with college, but we’re still close enough where we can hang out sometimes.

“We just wanted to have our own individual college experience.”

Tanner Knapp and Thomas Unold are the other two seniors on Mattawan’s boys basketball team. Juniors are Michael Lampos, Drew McNulty, Jalen Jones and Parker Miller. Luke Kerrins is the lone freshman on varsity. Assistant coach is Josh Brown.

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 can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Mattawan’s Jaden Mabin (32) looks to make a move in the post. (Middle) From top left: Matthew Pelak, Luke Pelak, Kelby Mabin and Jaden Mabin. (Below) Luke Pelak works to get a shot up Friday against Portage Northern. (Action shots by Erfan Pirbhai, head shots by Pam Shebest.)

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.