Western Ends Perfect Run with 1st Title

March 28, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half 

EAST LANSING — Even in their own city, even after all they'd accomplished this season, Detroit Western International's basketball players were somewhat of a curiosity when they showed up at Calihan Hall to play in the MHSAA Class A Quarterfinals on Tuesday. 

Western had been this far only twice in its long history — and neither occasion was recent history. The Cowboys reached the Quarterfinals in 1922 and the semifinals in 1974, long before any of the current players were born.

"That's why so many eyebrows were raised," junior guard Brailen Neely said. "When we were at Calihan, they hear Western and they're like, 'Western? They've never had a program.'" 

The Cowboys do now — the undisputed No. 1 program in Michigan in 2014-15. 

Western completed a perfect season by beating sixth-ranked Saginaw Arthur Hill, 62-59, in the MHSAA Class A championship game Saturday at the Breslin Center.

The Cowboys finished 26-0, including a 69-57 overtime victory over Arthur Hill in their second game. On only five occasions did a team come within single digits of Western. It was the first MHSAA championship in any sport for the school, which was the 1972 Class A runner-up in baseball and had been past the Regionals only five times in bracketed sports.

"It's really big for the community," senior guard Josh McFolley said. "The community hasn't had this in a very long time. It's really big for the school. It's really big for coach (Derrick McDowell) and the team. We've worked hard for this from day one." 

Not only has Western historically played in the shadows of Detroit's powerful programs, but the Cowboys were coming off a season in which they gave little indication that they would take the state by storm this winter. Western showed promise two years ago, going 12-7 in McDowell's second season at the school, but the Cowboys slumped to 6-13 last winter. 

Even Neely admits he never expected such a dramatic turnaround.

"I thought we would do better, but never state champs," said Neely, who was on the varsity as a freshman.

Neely said the big difference was that the team paid better attention to McDowell, who coached now-defunct Detroit Redford to Class A runner-up finishes in 1997 and 2002. 

"It was a process," Neely said. "Our freshman year, we were young and had only one senior. We had a lot of growing to do. Our next year, our 10th-grade year, we thought we had it. We weren't listening. We were knuckleheads, and it showed in our game. We didn't have our best year. People weren't coming to see us, which humbled us. This year, we're on coach Mac's page and he led us to tremendous success."

With sophomore Brian Bowen scoring 10 of his game-high 21 points in the second quarter, Arthur Hill (24-4) grabbed a 25-21 lead heading into halftime. 

There were seven lead changes in less than four minutes during the third quarter before Western took the lead for good at 33-32 on two free throws by Neely with 2:28 to go in the period. Those shots ignited what proved to be a decisive 16-2 run, as Western's lead grew to 47-34 with 5:19 remaining in the fourth quarter.

McFolley overcame an ankle sprain that he sustained before halftime to lead the surge, scoring 10 points during the third quarter. He hit two 3-pointers and scored twice when he stole the ball and went in for layups. He limped noticeably after the game, but showed no signs of the injury during the second half. 

"I knew the adrenaline was going to go through me," McFolley said. "I was going to forget about the pain. It's the biggest game of my career. My team needed me. I had to go back out there."

With Bowen scoring nine fourth-quarter points, the Lumberjacks battled back to within four points twice in the final minute. Nate Moore scored with four seconds left to get Arthur Hill within three, but the Lumberjacks were out of timeouts and Western didn't need to inbound the ball. 

"We knew it was going to be tough," McDowell said. "We played them the first time down in Detroit. They were up 13 at the half. The only way we got back in the game was from the defense the first time we played them. At halftime, that was the big emphasis, getting them in the full court, making them work to get down the court. We kind of looked at it like a football field where you have to work to get to the goal line."

Western was led by McFolley with 19 points and Gerald Blackshear with 16 points and 12 rebounds. As transfer students this winter, neither played in the first Arthur Hill game or during their team’s 8-0 start. 

"To be honest with you, I knew they were coming, but I had all the pieces anyway," McDowell said. "Those were just extra pieces, I thought. We weren't looking for them to come in and be Superman and Batman and save us. We had enough to win, which showed early in the year when we won without them. What that did was shut up the naysayers who thought the only way we could do it was with those two. We proved them wrong. When they became eligible, it just added to it."

Karim Murray added 15 points for the Cowboys. 

Arthur Hill fell short in its bid to win its third MHSAA title to go with championships in 1944 and 2006.

Guard Eric Davis, the Mr. Basketball runner-up, placed the burden for the loss on his shoulders. 

"We just missed a couple of opportunities," said Davis, who had 15 points, six rebounds and three assists. "I take full responsibility for today's effort and our loss today. I want to thank my teammates and our coaching staff. They did a great job this year. I take full responsibility. I feel like I didn't step up like I needed to, but I've just got to move on now."

Arthur Hill coach Greg McMath appreciated the show of leadership from his four-year star, but wouldn't let Davis take the blame. 

"Like I told Eric (Friday) night, he's a kid who really transformed himself and put the program back where we wanted it to be, because he sacrificed a lot for his team, becoming a point guard and cutting down on his scoring to get everybody else involved to help these guys get better," McMath said. "We're a team. We win as a team; we lose as a team. Him accepting that, we'll take it, but we know it's not his fault, because he gave it everything he had."

Billy Burton had 10 points for Arthur Hill. 

Click for the full box score and video from the postgame press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Western International’s Josh McFolley celebrates with his teammates the school’s first MHSAA championship. (Middle) Arthur Hill’s Eric Davis (10) works to get around McFolley.

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.