Centreville's Road Paved with Success

February 7, 2017

By Ryan Boldrey
Special for Second Half

When the Centreville girls hoops season got underway, head coach Jill Peterson gave her players a destination for which to shoot. 

And no, it wasn’t the school’s first Regional appearance since 1998 – though after the team’s 14-1 start, that is beginning to look like a distinct possibility.

The destination was Deer Lodge, Montana.

Yet why would a girls basketball coach from southwest Michigan set her team’s collective sight on a place like Deer Lodge, Montana?  

“At the beginning of the season we compared our season to a road trip,” Peterson explained, pointing out that Deer Lodge was a spot along I-90 that just seemed the right distance away. “Every day we talk about how far we’ve traveled. If it’s a real good practice (or game) we travel a good distance. If we don’t have a good practice, we talk about it and then set a goal for the next day, which may just be getting to the next city.” 

To demonstrate how far the team has gone, Peterson hung a road map in the Bulldogs’ locker room. And while outsiders may not get to glimpse that map and see the marker making its way across South Dakota en route to Deer Lodge, they have witnessed Centreville sprint out to an undefeated start in Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference play and rise to No. 4 in The Associated Press Class C poll – the first time the program has been ranked in recent memory.

“When my girls saw the tweet recently that we were ranked, they texted me and said, ‘What does this even mean?’” said Peterson, who played basketball for the Bulldogs from 2001-2004. “They had no concept. And like I told them, it may change the perception of what other people think of us, but we should still think the same thing we did yesterday.”

Despite the level of excitement that comes with being ranked, remaining grounded has not been an issue.

“I definitely think it caught a lot of us off guard,” sad senior point guard Skyler DeMeyer, who dishes out a team-high 6.5 assists per game. “We weren’t expecting it, but we are trying not to think about it because anything can happen on any given night and we need to keep ourselves to a higher standard. We realize that we can always get better, and every practice we push each other to do so. We know every other team we are going to see is getting better too.”

DeMeyer has been a motivating force both through her words and actions for her teammates, and prides herself on strong communication, tough-nosed defense and creating for her teammates on the offensive end.

“I’m not a huge scorer, but I like to see the floor and I feel very confident with all my teammates,” she said. “If I get them the ball they are going to do something with it. Whether it’s another pass, a score or a foul drawn, they are going to do something.”

And while the offense may run through the scrappy senior, it’s the youthful power in the post on the receiving end of so many of DeMeyer’s passes that has helped propel the program to the top of the BCS Blue and give Bulldogs fans visions of Centreville’s first league title since the school last won a St. Joseph Valley title in 1989, as well as hopes for a bright future.

Freshman Joanna Larsen – who missed the team’s only loss in the season opener against Constantine – and sophomore Samara Schlabach provide a one-two punch down low, leading a balanced attack that sees no Centreville players averaging double figures in scoring this season.

Larsen was originally supposed to be on the junior varsity team this year but impressed Peterson so much during the preseason she was called up to the varsity.

“Joanna, as a freshman, is already so far up there with everything, it’s amazing,” said Schlabach, who leads the team scoring 9.5 points per game and surprised herself when she was named to the varsity club as a sophomore. “I’m really excited to see how far she’ll go, because she is crazy good. I’m really excited for the years to come to play with her.”

Schlabach hopes that they can build in the girls basketball program what the baseball program already has – expectations of success year-in and year-out, and she is excited to be a part of it.

Right now, though, the team is focused on getting from city to city. Destination Deer Lodge and a potential District tournament rematch with Constantine, something they don’t talk about – yet.

“We might get some flat tires along the way,” Peterson said. “But our goal is to just keep moving. If today is a flat tire, tomorrow is going to be a better day. We haven’t peaked yet, and we want to do that at the right time.”

Other players who have stepped up for the Bulldogs this year include Hannah Rice, Carly Todd, Brittany Morris, Carlee Odom and Kayla Gest, the latter of whom has dazzled with her outside shooting touch and lockdown defense.

PHOTOS: (Top) Centreville works to get the offense going during a 21-20 win over White Pigeon on Dec. 2. (Middle) The Bulldogs have held opponents to fewer than 25 points six times this season. (Photos courtesy of JoeInsider.com.)

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.