'Ville' Coach Driven to Make Difference

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

December 30, 2015

DETROIT – It’s unlikely. But if Juan Rickman ever gets bored, he would be a prime candidate to participate in a sleep-deprivation study.

Rickman, 32, spent five seasons as the boys basketball coach at Detroit Crockett, then became the coach at Detroit East English Village Prep when Crockett merged with Detroit Finney for the start of the 2012-13 school year.

His fulltime job is serving as an attendant agent for the Detroit Public Schools. In layman’s terms, he’s a truant officer. He also works for Wayne County in its juvenile detention department.

And if that’s not enough, Rickman and a partner are in the process of starting a medical transportation business. Rickman said he has the drivers lined up. Purchasing the vehicles is the next step.

Rickman also is a husband and a father. He and his wife Kateena have a 16-month-old daughter, Amira.

A graduate of Detroit Cass Tech and the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Rickman is driven. Achievement is the driving force that supplies the motivation for himself and his family, and for the students for whom he is responsible.

“I’m grinding, just grinding,” he said. “My wife and I have a budget.

“She’s totally into my life. You want a means to an end. We want to buy a house.”

A typical day for Rickman begins at 7:45 a.m. at East English. School ends at 3:30 p.m., and then study table begins a half hour later for his players and lasts an hour and a half. Practice runs from 5:50-8 p.m. His job with Wayne County begins at 11 p.m. and he’s off at 7 – then he’s back at East English.

Rickman isn’t Superman, so this routine isn’t played out every day. But there are weeks where he’ll work three nights for Wayne County, then work a Sunday.

“There are some days I don’t sleep,” he said. “This past week I got up Monday morning and didn’t sleep until 11 (p.m.) on Wednesday.

“When my wife wasn’t working, I had to (work extended hours). Sometimes I’ll take some time off (from Wayne County). The thing is, I know when I need to tone it down.”

Kateena returned to work for an insurance company soon after giving birth. Though this helps monetarily, it also forces the Rickmans to send their child to day care.

It can be a dilemma, and it is a balancing act. But they’re determined to create a good life for themselves and their child.

Juan Rickman said he planned on cutting back on his hours during the holidays to spend more time with his family.

Along with the rewards financially from their hard work is the satisfaction of knowing they are contributing to their community. Because of his jobs within DPS and Wayne County, Juan Rickman deals with many troubled youths. He knows he’s in a position to set an example as a positive role model, and there is a responsibility to fulfill these expectations.

“I take it seriously,” Rickman said. “A big part of my job is to get these kids into college. I’ve had six of my players go on to a Division I school, but what I’m most proud of is the others. I didn’t have to work hard to get the Division I kids in school. College coaches came after them. I’m more proud of the D-II and the (players who went to) NAIA (schools). Look at Jaylin McFadden. We worked hard to get him into Ferris State.

“And these players come back around. Even the ones I kicked off the team come back. It’s a good feeling.”

Rickman and others at East English also helped the team manager earn a scholarship. Devin Smith is a senior and he’s earned a scholarship to Madonna University in Livonia through a fund the university set up.

East English is off to a 1-2 start, but the Bulldogs are expected to be a significant factor in the race for the Public School League title.

“I’m content coaching high school basketball,” Rickman said. “I’ve had opportunities to go to the next level. I didn’t like the situation.”

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit East English boys basketball coach Juan Rickman works with his players during a practice. (Middle) Rickman, with wife Kateena, holds daughter Amira. (Photos courtesy of the Rickman family.)

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.