Unity Rides Impressive Run Into Saturday

March 15, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – The last two weeks have seen Hudsonville Unity Christian thrust into the statewide spotlight with a pair of wins over teams expected to contend for this season’s Division 2 title.

But the Crusaders have belonged in that conversation all season as well, and showed why again Friday in clinching a spot in their first MHSAA boys basketball championship game since 1973.

Unity Christian ran its winning streak to 21 this winter with a 69-30 victory over Ludington in the night’s first Division 2 Semifinal at Breslin Center.

The impressive showing fit well following the Regional Final win over 2018 Class B champion Benton Harbor and Tuesday’s 36-point Quarterfinal win over Grand Rapids South Christian, which handed the Crusaders their last loss, by two on Dec. 21.

“We talked about flying under the radar because we’ve done that all year long, and that’s been a good thing – that’s fine with us,” Unity coach Scott Soodsma said. “I think we have just really turned it up a notch. These kids are just winners, and they were getting close to the end of their careers, and they want to go out champions. So I think they just actually on their own decided to turn it up a notch.”

Unity (25-2) will face River Rouge in Saturday’s 6:45 p.m. championship game. As noted, it will be the Crusaders’ first Final since 1973, and they also finished Class B runners-up in 1963.

But the program has been building toward this opportunity. Last week’s Regional title was its first since 2008, but Unity won its third straight league and District championships rolling toward the end of February.

The Crusaders led Friday for all but 59 seconds when the teams were tied early, and by double digits for the final 27 minutes. The lockdown defense added to a postseason effort that has seen Unity give up only 47 points on average over seven playoff wins.

“There was stuff we thought was open when we went in at halftime, but our offense was being played so far away from the basket and so far off the 3-point line that we had a heck of a time taking advantage of any of those things,” Ludington coach Thad Shank said.

“When you’re a team that can really pressure the ball like they do, you don’t even have to play great defense behind that ball pressure because it causes so much havoc.”

On the other side of the court, senior guard Noah Wiswary was the only Unity scorer in double figures with 17 points. But while 12 players got on the board, the team’s shooting percentage stayed at a sparkling 59 percent from the floor for the game. Unity also had 18 assists on 29 field goals.

“We just want to win. That’s all we want to do,” Wiswary said. “We just want to get the state championship. We want to win, and sharing the ball is the best way to do that, so that’s what we do.”

Senior forward T.J. VanKoevering added eight points and six rebounds for the Crusaders.

Senior guard Joshua Laman led Ludington with nine points.

Although ending on a tough note, the Orioles provided one of the surprises of the tournament. They entered the postseason 9-10, but defeated five opponents all with at least 13 wins to make it to the Semifinals for the second time in three seasons. Ludington finished 14-11.

“Going into the postseason 9-10 definitely isn’t easy when you’ve got a bunch of people looking at you, looking at the first game of Districts and thinking oh, they don’t have a chance,” Ludington senior Sam Bandstra said. “But in the postseason we came together as a team. It wasn’t about us, and we came out and played as a team, and we shocked some people. When we’re playing the intense defense we were playing and really moving the ball and playing as a team – we came together at the right time.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ludington’s Joshua Laman (11) works for a shot against Unity’s Derek Slager (22) and T.J. VanKoevering during Friday’s Division 2 Semifinal. (Middle) Unity’s Grant Balcer pushes the ball upcourt.

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.