Class A Champs Repeat in Grand Fashion

March 16, 2013

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half

EAST LANSING — With the cameras capturing Grand Haven’s championship celebration, Abby Cole successfully avoided an emotional meltdown.

That changed in the privacy of the Bucs’ locker room deep inside the Breslin Center.

It was there that the 6-foot-5 senior center was struck by the realization that she would never play a meaningful basketball game again. It certainly didn’t help during a postgame tribute to her seniors that coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer uttered the words, “Abby, I love you. I’m going to miss you.”

That’s when the tears flowed. At least Cole held it together for the photographers.

“I promised myself this year if we won that I wouldn’t cry, because I looked awful in all the pictures last year,” Cole said following Grand Haven’s 60-54 overtime victory over Grosse Pointe South in the MHSAA
Class A championship game on Saturday. “The honor of getting this medal put on my neck, holding up the trophy with my team, singing to our student section … then we go in the locker room.”

Cole said she has played basketball since she was 5 or 6 years old. She has known Kowalczyk-Fulmer that entire time. Now Cole will never again play for her long-time mentor, moving on to play volleyball at
the University of Michigan.

“Once she got to me (in the locker room), I couldn’t handle it,” Cole said. “I’m done with basketball. That’s so hard for me. It’s been a huge part of my life, definitely helped shape me as a person. I’m really going to miss it.”

And Grand Haven fans definitely will miss Cole.

The program had reached the MHSAA Semifinals only once (1981) before getting at least that far the last three seasons and winning 51 straight games. The Bucs lost 39-38 to Detroit Renaissance in the 2011
Semifinals, then won a 54-53 thriller over Grosse Pointe South in last year’s Final.

The rematch was as good as advertised, although it took time for the drama to build.

Grand Haven (28-0), which rallied from 18 points down to beat South last season, led 40-29 with 34 seconds left in the third quarter. With Cole on the bench with four fouls, the Blue Devils (25-2) began
cutting into the lead. They went ahead for the first time since early in the first quarter, 49-48, when sophomore Cierra Rice scored with 3:25 left in the fourth quarter.

That would be South’s only lead, as Grand Haven’s Hannah Wilkerson responded with a basket eight seconds later. There was no more scoring in the fourth quarter after a 3-pointer by South’s Gretchen Shirar
tied the game 52-52 with 1:52 left in regulation.

The Blue Devils held for the final shot after getting the ball with 45.9 seconds left. A pass down low went out of bounds with 6.4 seconds left.

South attempted the same play that worked for a back-door bucket by Rice on the Blue Devils’ go-ahead basket three minutes earlier.

“I think they saw it coming,” Rice said. “They had a bunch of defenders there ready to take the ball. It just bobbled everywhere once we tried to run it again.”

Grand Haven scored the first five points of overtime, including four on back-to-back baskets by Cole. The margin was never closer than three points after that. Cole, who finished third in Miss Basketball voting, was only 2 for 5 with seven points during regulation time. She finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and eight blocks.

“Abby can score inside, but they weren’t just going to let us lob it in,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “She wasn’t going to be able to score 30 points or anything. We just had so many contributions from so many

Grand Haven shot 75.9 percent from the field to overcome an otherwise bizarre stat sheet. South took 78 field goal attempts to Grand Haven’s 29 and had only five turnovers while forcing the Bucs into 32.

“Having lost for the second straight year to the same team, obviously it hurts,” South coach Kevin Richards said. “But I just love the way our girls competed. Even at halftime, I like how we played hard. We
had the tempo we wanted. Give Grand Haven credit — they made some plays when they needed to.”

Cole was only Grand Haven’s third-leading scorer in the championship game, as senior Wilkerson shot 8 for 8 while scoring 17 points and junior Taylor Craymer shot 5 for 7 in a 14-point effort.

“Last year we had a lot of talent,” Wilkerson said. “This year a lot of girls stepped up. We worked hard for this one.”

Click for the full box score. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Haven's Abby Cole blocks a shot during Saturday's Class A Final; she had eight blocks in the game. (Middle) Grosse Pointe South's Cierra Rice (5) attempts to drive past Cole. (Click to see more at

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.