Built for this Moment, Western Arrives

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

January 16, 2018

McKenna Walker was a fourth grader when her dad, Tim, returned for his second stint as coach of the Bay City Western girls basketball team.

At that point, she didn’t realize what she and her friends were building. She simply was having fun playing basketball.

But her dad saw the future of his program.

“They were successful at a young age,” Tim Walker said. “I could see the athletic ability. I could see they were competitive and willing to learn at a young age. You could kind of see it coming with putting these pieces together.”

Now, as McKenna enters the second half of her senior season, she and her teammates are proving her father right. The Warriors are coming off their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1998-99, and were 9-0 heading into Tuesday night’s matchup with rival Midland. They’re ranked No. 6 in Class A by The Associated Press, and No. 8 by the Detroit Free Press.

“We have some really strong leadership with my daughter, McKenna – she’s been a big part of the turnaround since her freshman year,” said Tim Walker, who took over the program five games into the 2009-10 season, and also coached the Warriors from 1994-2004. “Also, we have kids in her class that have stuck with it and have been very committed since third and fourth grade. We have a strong group of juniors that have also been committed. They’re all competitive athletes, and I’ve been blessed to have kids who are dominant in other sports and have really meshed well together, accept their roles and play hard. It’s been very enjoyable to be a part of.”

This season, Bay City Western is winning with an uptempo style, sometimes driven by a five-guard lineup. McKenna Walker, who signed with Northwood University in November, leads that charge. She averaged 19 points and 8.4 rebounds per game as a junior, and started this season with 1,120 career points. In a recent game against Saginaw, she set a career high with 39 points.

She is one of two four-year players on the team, as Kylie Lukowski also has been playing varsity ball since her freshman year. Lukowski stands at just 5 feet, 6 inches tall, but she finds a home in the post when it’s asked of her.

“I try my hardest because I’m not very tall, obviously,” she said. “So I just have to push them around a little bit and see if it bothers them at all.”

Despite the lack of size, things seem to be working, as the Warriors are keeping teams off balance and taking advantage of the matchups their smaller lineup creates.

“Let’s just say if there were a shot clock, we would not have a hard time getting a shot off,” Tim Walker said. “It’s not that we’re making them all, but we’re playing uptempo and forcing turnovers.”

The hope is that style can translate to victories in the postseason, which have been elusive for Bay City Western. The school won District titles in 1997 and 1998, but none since.

“(Winning a District title) would just be so cool,” McKenna Walker said. “It’s been one of my goals since coming in, because it’s been such a long time, and I just wanted to change that.”

When looking at the competition for a District title, one easily can forgive the Warriors’ current drought.

This season, like most, the bracket includes Bay City Central, Midland, Midland Dow, Mount Pleasant and Saginaw Heritage, which would be a tough path for any team.

“As these kids (were) developing at a young age, we’ve been having to set the bar awfully high,” Tim Walker said. “Because the Midlands have always been good, the Saginaw teams have always been good. You really have to get the kids to buy into the offseason work and just work hard.”

Two seasons ago, Western found itself leading Saginaw Heritage at halftime in a District Semifinal. Heritage came back to win the game, however, and eventually advanced to the Regional Final.

It was a tough loss, but also served as a confidence builder and teaching moment for the young Warriors.

“We definitely learned that every team is beatable,” McKenna Walker said. “Even if we’re playing a team that we’re supposed to beat, you never know, because every team is beatable. You never want to think that it’s UConn playing you. We’re all high school girls. We’re all the same age. Anything can happen.”

The Saginaw Valley League helps prepare the Warriors for this postseason gauntlet, although it’s preparing everyone else in the District as well. The league includes the six teams from the District, plus Davison, Flint Carman-Ainsworth, Bay City John Glenn, Flint Powers Catholic, Saginaw, Saginaw Arthur Hill, Flint and Lapeer all forming one division this winter.

The schedule can be a grind, but it also helps the team stay focused on the day-to-day routine needed to be successful and reach the goals it set at the beginning of the season – and the promise Tim Walker saw in this group so long ago.

“What I have noticed is, mentally, each night they’re in a pretty good place right now,” Tim Walker said. “They just have a really good grasp on what it takes to play with effort, team play and execution.”

Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Bay City Western’s McKenna Walker gets to the basket during Bay City Western’s opener against Frankenmuth. (Middle) The Warriors defend the post against the Eagles. (Photos by Chip DeGrace.)

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.