Calumet Steps Closer to Class C Throne

March 19, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

EAST LANSING – Clara Loukus was all jitters when Thursday’s first Class C Semifinal tipped off at the Breslin Center. And her coach Jeff Twardzik knew it.

But he also could tell from the way she launched her 3-point shot with three minutes to play that it would find the bottom of the net – and more importantly, that she was ready to carry the Copper Kings to their first MHSAA championship game. 

Loukus scored one third of Calumet’s points and spearheaded a defensive effort that stopped undefeated Laingsburg cold over the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter.

And the Copper Kings indeed moved on, edging the top-ranked Wolfpack 30-26 to advance to Saturday’s 4 p.m. Final against Flint Hamady.

“Last night I couldn’t sleep. ... The first half I was riled up,” Loukus said. “The second half came, and I calmed myself down, got my got my rhythm. I knew I had my whole team behind me, and I had to do this for them.” 

Stingy defense played a part in both teams advancing to the Semifinals this season for the first time. Laingsburg (26-1) gave up only 25.7 points per game entering Thursday, while Calumet (23-2) wasn’t far behind that pace, allowing 32.5.

And that certainly played out from the opening tip. Laingsburg did make 50 percent of its shots during the first half – but launched only 10 times. Calumet shot 10 percent better during the second half than the first – but only 39 percent from the floor over the final two quarters and 32 percent for the game. 

Although the Wolfpack made only two of 11 shots during the third quarter, the Copper Kings still trailed 23-21 when a Laingsburg turnover at 7:14 of the fourth started a run that will be among highlights of Calumet’s historic trip downstate.

The Copper Kings earned that turnover with their fullcourt press, and tied the score on junior Leah Kiilunen’s basket with 6:26 to play. Calumet then forced another turnover, and then another when Loukus gathered a steal with 5:06 on the clock. 

The teams traded missed shots until senior Alexis Rowe dropped in a layup with 4:22 to play to give the Copper Kings a 25-23 lead. Another miss and turnover set up Loukus for her game-deciding 3-pointer with 3:02 to play.

“She’s that heartbeat that never quits,” Twardzik said. “You never quite now when it’s going to come, but that 3-poiner, I could tell when it left her hands. The kids were nervous coming in, understandably. But I could tell she calmed down, and she took that shot in rhythm.” 

Laingsburg did score its first and only basket of the final period with 1:26 to play to pull within 28-26. But the Wolfpack turned the ball over twice more, the second time on a pass into the middle of the lane that Loukus intercepted. She was fouled and made both free throw attempts with nine seconds to play.

“I turned to my assistant and I said, ‘She’s going to make these two,’” Twardzik said. “That’s the way she’s built.” 

Loukas finished with 10 points and five steals, and Rowe added seven points. Junior 6-foot-2 center Janie Torola came off the bench and became an obstacle in the middle playing all but two minutes of the second half, and she grabbed nine rebounds and blocked three shots to go with seven points.

Freshman Sophie Wilsey led Laingsburg with eight points and four rebounds. 

"For the last four or five games, we've struggled a little bit with our offense. We've been managing to score in the 30s or 40 range, and with our defense that typically gives us the opportunity to win," Laingsburg coach Doug Hurst said. "Tonight it was a credit to their defense as well, a lot of it to their defense, actually. … They're big, they're long, and that kinda changed things a little bit."

Calumet entered the tournament unranked, and traveled 500 miles to East Lansing after making their first Quarterfinal appearance Tuesday since 1977. 

“This is everybody’s dream, to get here. And when you step into the first practice, you talk to the kids; why not dream big?” Twardzik said. “I truly believed in this group of kids. I’ve had an opportunity to be a part since they were very young, (because) my daughter (Ellen) is a senior.

“In my wildest dreams, did I have this dream? Yes. Did I believe it could be true? Absolutely.” 

“We come from a small town. Not a lot of people know about you,” Rowe added. “I remember yesterday, coming down in the gym, everybody’s eyes were wide open. Friday we’ve just got to go back to the mental (preparation), and Saturday just wake up and play our game and be ready.”

Click for the full box score and video of the press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Calumet's Abby Bjorn (44) works to get around Laingsburg's Sara Hurst on Thursday. (Middle) The Copper Kings' Alexis Rowe goes up for a shot while Julia Angst (5) works for a stop.

Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

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.