Class D: Athens Finds a Way

March 15, 2012

EAST LANSING – Athens has strung together six straight District titles, but always fell just a bit short of reaching the Finals at Breslin Center.

For a few reasons, this wasn’t supposed to be the season the Indians took that next step.

They graduated 11 players last spring. Add in the necessary blend-in of an exchange student, two sophomores and a freshman who play significant roles.

But coach Calvin Quist might’ve found a championship combination – of at least a historical one.

Athens downed Crystal Falls Forest Park 61-48 in Thursday’s second Class D Semifinal and will play in its first MHSAA championship game Saturday morning.

“It means everything in the world. Just to be part of a great tradition,” Athens junior Leia Fuller said. “It’s unexplainable. Going this far, you really don’t know what it feels like. You just want to go the further step, just want to go more and more.”

Athens (21-5) will take on No. 7 and two-time reigning champion Waterford Our Lady (22-4) at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Don’t expect the Indians to be intimidated.

No player measures taller than 5-foot-8, but the Indians proved again that doesn’t matter much if they don’t let opponents get the ball up the floor.

Relying on a stifling defensive press, Athens had 19 steals and took advantage of 23 total Forest Park turnovers. Trojans sophomore Alexis Gussert was outstanding – hitting 14 of 24 shots for 34 points, to go along with 12 rebounds, five blocks and three steals – but the rest of her teammates combined to shoot only 20 percent from the floor.

“I’m speechless. We had a pretty good game plan, and these young ladies executed it well,” Quist said. “This is the deepest team I’ve had in all the (seven) years I’ve coached. I have nine players and any of the nine could start. And that too was part of our plan, because we didn’t think they had much depth. So our plan was to get the ball and go.”

The Indians outscored Forest Park 19-5 in the second quarter to take a 35-15 lead into halftime and cap what Quist called one of the team’s best first halves this winter.

But the second half saw the Trojans (21-6) make a courageous comeback.

Keyed by Gussert’s offensive punch – she hit one of her 3-pointers from just in front of her team’s bench – Crystal Falls cut the deficit to eight, 56-48, with 42 seconds to play. But the Trojans couldn’t come all the way back.

“You’ve gotta keep it up, get it into your head that you can do this,” Forest Park senior Audrey Sholander said. “Being a senior, you don’t want to give up that game. You don’t want to come out with a loss. But regardless, we just knew what we had to do.

“We’ve had close games all season long. We know how to get back in the game, know we have to work hard. In the end, they just outplayed us. So it was a tough loss, but we tried our hardest.”

Sophomore Payton Wood led Athens with 13 points and eight rebounds, and sophomore Leo Plaisir added 10 points. Nine players scored for the Indians, and seven had at least five points.

“We pass it around. We know our game and we know what shots we can take,” Wood said. “That teamwork seems to have gotten us through this game.”

Click for the box score. Watch the game and both teams' postgame press conferences at

PHOTO: Athens freshman Allison Fuller looks for an open teammate Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Hockey Weekly Action Photos)

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.