As Capac's Win Wait Ends, Energy & Enthusiasm Drive New Era

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

December 21, 2021

The Capac girls basketball team and its new coach, Ryan Rossi, had been waiting a long time for the events of Dec. 11.

For Rossi, it was the end of a 20-month wait for his wedding, which was originally planned and rescheduled twice – first in April of 2020, then later in December of that year.

That meant, however, he wasn’t in the Capac gymnasium when the team he took over this past September was able to celebrate the end of its own long wait. The Chiefs defeated Flint Southwestern 41-19 that afternoon, picking up their first win since Feb. 20, 2020.

“We screamed a lot,” Capac senior Juliana Closurdo said. “We were really excited. It almost didn’t even feel real because we haven’t experienced that in so long. I know everybody was so ecstatic. (Rossi) actually sent us all a group text and said congrats, and that he had the whole wedding party watching. That felt great, getting that support, that he was at his wedding, and he was watching us and cheering us on.”

Capac is 2-3 to start the season, a big step forward after going 0-14 in 2020-21, and just one win away from matching the program’s total over the past two seasons (three). While the wins are more than welcomed and confirmation the Chiefs are making improvements, the goals for this season are much simpler.

Capac basketball“I feel like we’ve already gotten off to a successful start,” Closurdo said. “A successful year for us is just playing with joy. Last year was really rough on everybody, and I know that I haven’t played with this much happiness in a while. Being able to play and be happy on the court, and not having the pressure of having to get a win and being able to go off that momentum, it’s great.”

Rossi came to Capac from Yale, where he still is a teacher and had previously coached at the middle school and junior varsity levels. Since he wasn’t hired until the fall, he had to learn about his players through a handful of open gyms and by going through old Capac game film and some of his own, as he had coached against a few of the girls with the Yale JV.

“Also, I didn’t really care,” Rossi said. “Last year was last year. Their previous experiences were their previous experiences. Let’s go in, and the first thing we have to do is make this a place where these kids want to be. These girls made it easy. They are a great group, they’re awesome. Right away, they treated me like their family. They were really accepting.”

Rossi was impressed with the players’ enthusiasm and energy coming into the season. They noticed the same thing with their new coach.

“He always wanted us to have high energy, and he’s always telling us to believe in ourselves,” Capac senior Erica Yeashevich said. “Just the high energy he has, I feel like that was really helpful. And he put us all at the same level when he walked in.”

Capac opened the season with a 44-11 loss against Deckerville, but even in that game Rossi said he saw some glimmers of hope. That was followed by the win against Southwestern, which had Capac at .500 for the first time since 2017. 

Capac basketballWhile that win snapped the 16-game losing streak, it was the second win, 32-24 against Kimball Landmark in Game 4, that showed Rossi more about his team.

“As a team, we have really adopted the mindset of we can only control what happens one play at a time,” Rossi said. “Say we’re down 10 points early, there’s not a shot that’s going to score 10 points. We’re not scoreboard watching, we’re taking it one play at a time. If you miss a layup, that has no effect on your next shot. The girls are really adopting that mindset. In the game against Landmark, that was huge, because we were having a very poor shooting night.

“That’s been very player driven. There have been messages that we wanted them to think about, but they have taken it and ran with it. They are very much responding and making it their own, which I think is huge. That speaks to the players we have, especially the seniors.”

That mindset has led to Capac setting smaller, attainable goals as it continues to look for positive momentum within the program. The Chiefs know a Greater Thumb Conference East title isn’t likely, but that doesn’t mean they can’t push teams like Sandusky and Harbor Beach beyond what they’ve been able to in the past. And if more wins are the result of that attitude, even better.

“Honestly, I feel like our expectations aren’t that high, so a successful year for me is reaching all of the small goals, getting better and improving on last year,” Yeashevich said. “The big thing for me is just having fun playing basketball. So far, basketball has already been the highlight of my day every day this season.”

Paul CostanzoPaul 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) Capac coach Ryan Rossi talks things over with his players during a game this season. (Middle) Juliana Closurdo (3) and teammate Trinity Lietz high-five Rossi. (Below) Closurdo defends against Kimball Landmark. (Top photo by Guadalupe Rosales, middle and below photos courtesy of the Capac girls basketball program.)

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.