Country Day Adds to Coach's 50th Run
March 17, 2017
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Frank Orlando’s 50th season as a high school coach has been much like many of them – he’s enjoyed another championship contender, led by multiple all-staters, and he’ll bring that team into the final day of the season once again.
But there could be something a little special as Detroit Country Day’s longtime girls basketball leader closes a half century on the bench.
Orlando couldn’t hold back every tear talking about it briefly Friday, after a few laughs when star Destiny Pitts hushed him for giving away the team’s defensive secrets, and as the Yellowjackets decompressed from eliminating reigning Class B champion Marshall 46-42 in their Semifinal matchup.
They’ll face either Freeland or Ypsilanti Arbor Prep in Saturday’s championship game at the Breslin Center, seeking a 12th MHSAA title over Orlando’s 36 seasons leading the program – another piece of hardware to add to a tradition this latest group has maintained.
“I don’t know if you remember last year, but I told you we’d be back here,” recalled Pitts, referencing her prediction after the Yellowjackets fell in a Semifinal in 2016. “Coach O’s 50th year is just so important to us, and getting the tradition instilled in our seniors so we can pass it down to the juniors and sophomores and freshmen. … It’s important to bring (the title) back to our friends, our school and our teachers, because they all believe in us.”
Friday’s Semifinal wasn’t decided until the final minute, something that might’ve seemed to favor Marshall after it won its Semifinal last season with two last-second free throws on the way to claiming the program’s first MHSAA title the next day.
But it was Country Day’s turn after the 2015 champ fell two wins short a year ago.
After Marshall led most of the second quarter, the Yellowjackets (25-1) led most of the third and fourth.
Redhawks senior Jill Konkle – one of four returning starters from last season’s team – scored with 1:48 to play to give Marshall a two-point edge. But the rest belonged to the Yellowjackets.
Junior guard Kaela Webb scored and then made two free throws to give her team a two-point lead with 44 seconds to play. Pitts added two more free throws for the final margin. In between, senior Tylar Bennett and junior Maxine Moore blocked Marshall shots, ending this season’s attempt at last-minute drama.
“They never quit, they kept their heads up and they kept playing hard, and that’s all I can say – they never gave up ever once,” Orlando said. “We worked hard on blocking. When they were coming, we told (our players) to wait, wait, wait, and then block. But don’t go after them right away because they are too good at what they do (with head fakes).”
The defensive stand characterized one of the key changes Webb described from last season’s team. In addition to more aggressiveness on that side of the court, these Yellowjackets also have shared the ball more, averaging more than 15 assists per game even as they had just 10 Friday.
It truly was strength on strength, as Country Day used only two subs for a total of eight minutes and Marshall used one sub for nine. Pitts led the Yellowjackets with 13 points and five assists and Bennett added 10 points as all five starters scored at least five.
Konkle and senior forward Nikki Tucker both scored 13 points to lead Marshall (23-3), and junior guard Natalie Tucker had nine points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
The Redhawks’ loss brought to an end a two-season 49-4 run that made a nice statement on the value of team basketball in a class where contenders often have one or more stars.
“I think the biggest thing is last year we proved to a lot of people that you don’t need DI (college) players,” said Tucker, who will play Division II hoops next season. “We aren’t a team that’s extra tall. We’re not a team that super quick. We’re not a team that’s crazy athletic. But we work together and we move the ball and we make shots when we need to make shots, and that’s all you need to do to play basketball. I don’t need a million DI commits when I have a great team.”
Marshall graduates five seniors who have been touted in their community since elementary school, and proved those high expectations correct last season. Redhawks coach Sal Konkle – also Jill’s mother – thought that was heaping a bit much on the youngsters at the time, but in the end this truly was a defining group.
“They have really instilled a work ethic in this program – we’ve always worked hard, but this is an extra special group that works extremely hard,” Sal Konkle said. “They just plain and simple do what you ask them to do, and they do it 100 miles an hour and with 100 percent effort all the time.
“What’s they’ve done is left a legacy for our team in the future here. The freshmen and the sophomores and the juniors on our team this year, they know how hard you have to work to get results, and they know how hard you have to work to reach your goals. We will still have lofty goals next year, and they’re going to have to work hard like these kids did.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Country Day’s Destiny Pitts works to get past Marshall’s Georgianna Pratley during Friday’s Class B Semifinal. (Middle) Redhawks senior Nikki Tucker drives to the basket.
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.
But 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 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 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.