Bucs Earn Shot at Grand Finale

March 15, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Grand Haven’s girls basketball players toppled over each other on the Breslin Center floor Friday afternoon just as they did in celebrating their first Class A championship here a year before.

But the Buccaneers also realized they have one more game to win to finish one of the finest seasons in MHSAA girls basketball history.

Grand Haven earned that opportunity by coming back to defeat Westland John Glenn 55-46 after trailing in the Semifinal with a quarter to play.

The Bucs might not have been expected to put this run together after graduating most of last season’s team. But led by senior Abby Cole – who had a triple-double before the end of Thursday’s third quarter – they not only are in position to repeat, but also to finish undefeated this winter.

“Especially for the seniors, everyone wanted to come back and do what the seniors did for us last year,” Bucs senior Hannah Wilkerson said. “For the juniors now on the team, we wanted them to experience it. It’s still the best memory I have, ever.”

Grand Haven (27-0) will face No. 2 Grosse Pointe South at noon Saturday. The Bucs edged South 54-53 in last season’s Class A Final and have won 50 straight games. 

John Glenn came into Thursday with similar credentials to Grand Haven a year ago – carrying only one loss and seeking its first championship game berth. The No. 6 Rockets (24-2) actually were undefeated in Michigan, with their only loss to Toledo Rogers from Ohio. 

Pressuring and fastbreaking, John Glenn jumped to a 14-10 lead to end the first quarter after forcing Grand Haven into most of its 10 turnovers in the period and scoring 10 points off the fastbreak. 

But Cole was just getting started on a performance that will be remembered among the best of her all-state career.

The 6-foot-5 center finished with 23 points, 19 rebounds and 12 blocked shots, and even hit the first 3-pointer of her career – she had air-balled her only other attempt, earlier this season. 

Cole finished third in the Miss Basketball voting on Monday after finishing second in the Miss Volleyball voting at the end of the fall. She was named Class A basketball Player of the Year by The Associated Press, and will play volleyball at the University of Michigan next season.

“She’s the biggest impact player in the state,” Grand Haven coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “Just with her ability to block shots, rebound and score around the rim, and she makes everybody on our team better.” 

But the Bucs likely wouldn’t have moved on without some help. Junior forward Taylor Craymer scored 20 points, with half of those coming during the fourth quarter including the final go-ahead basket with 5:21 to play. Sophomore guard Amanda Merz had seven assists as the team steadied itself after the early Rockets rush. 

John Glenn senior guard Raven Bankston – who with sister Raine has signed with Delaware State – filled the stat sheet with 23 points, five rebounds, three assists and 11 steals, and senior guard Sha’Keya Graves scored 12 points. But although the Rockets launched 71 shots, they were able to connect on only 17 for the game and 2 of 18 shots during the fourth quarter. 

“Bottom line, Abby Cole disrupted everything we wanted to do,” John Glenn coach Eric Kovatch said. “She’s one heck of a ballplayer, and I’m sure a lot of college coaches wish she was playing college basketball instead of volleyball. 

“I think that got a little into our heads in the first half. Shots weren’t falling, and a lot of times this year those shots were falling. We want to put up a lot of shots. We just weren’t making as many as we usually do.”

Grand Haven entered the postseason ranked No. 3 in Class A, behind Detroit Martin Luther King and Grosse Pointe South.

Unlike a year ago, the Bucs were undefeated during the regular season after folding in a number of talented contributors from last season’s junior varsity team.

“We have such a good program at Grand Haven. We’re continually getting better, and the coaching staff is a huge part of it,” Cole said. “A lot of people doubted our team this year because we lost so many seniors. But I don’t know that many people knew we had an almost-undefeated team coming up from JV.”

Click for a full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Westland John Glenn's Raine Bankston (1), attempts to drive past Grand Haven's Amanda Merz during Friday's Semifinal. (Middle) Merz pushes the ball upcourt during the 55-46 win  (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photo.)

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.