Country Day Follows Freshman to Title

March 21, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING — Detroit Country Day knew it had a potential star on its hands when Kaela Webb arrived as a freshman in the fall.

But regardless of her status as the latest prodigy for one of Michigan's most successful programs, Webb didn't receive preferential treatment.

She was treated just like any other ninth-grader, which meant knowing her place in the team's pecking order at the beginning of the season.

"It was weird, because freshmen had to get the water, and I just wasn't used to that," Webb said. "We had to get the jerseys and everything."

Freshman initiation didn't last long for Webb and Country Day's four other ninth-graders, who eventually blended seamlessly into the team and left their mark in the school's rich history.

Webb stepped into a leadership role on the biggest stage in the sport, scoring a game-high 20 points to lead Country Day to a 49-41 victory over Haslett in the MHSAA Class B girls basketball championship game Saturday night at the Breslin Center.

It was the 11th MHSAA title for Country Day (22-4), but its first since 2009. The Yellowjackets hadn't gone six years between titles since a similar drought between 1989 and 1995.

Some of the greatest players in Country Day history came and went without winning a championship since the 2009 title. The Yellowjackets restored their tradition by playing four freshmen, two sophomores, a junior and two seniors against Haslett.

"It's an honor to bring back the legacy after six years," senior Kristina Grace said. "It's an 'awe' moment. You wouldn't expect for a team like us who is so young to make it all the way. We were the underdogs and we did it; it's amazing."

After losing in the 2010 title game, Country Day was eliminated in the Quarterfinals each of the last five years, the first three by Goodrich, the last two by Flint Powers Catholic.

"The biggest joy of all is to see these young women be proud Lady Jackets and keep the legacy of our program," veteran Country Day coach Frank Orlando said. "I know we are so blessed to win a state championship. I don't care about the number; I care about these kids."

Country Day's all-stater is a sophomore, Destiny Pitts. She finished with 12 points, but was held to four in the second half. Webb came through with 11 points after halftime, going 6 for 6 from the line during the final 1:28 to put the game away.

"For a freshman, that's phenomenal, but for anybody that's phenomenal," Orlando said.

Haslett (22-6), which lost 57-43 to Country Day late in the regular season, was able to limit Pitts, but couldn't find an answer for Webb.

"(Webb) had a stellar night tonight," Haslett coach Bob Currier said. "Boy, for a freshman, what a nice player with quickness, control, good defense. She did a great job. They don't play like freshmen and sophomores, that's for sure, but they have such great physical attributes that it kind of makes up for that some."

Country Day broke away from a 10-10 tie after one quarter to take a 23-17 halftime lead. The Yellowjackets expanded that lead to 30-20 on a basket by Arika Tolbert with 3:02 left in the third quarter.

With the game possibly slipping away from them, the Vikings fought back to within striking distance. A layup by Kenzie DeCook off a turnover got Haslett within 37-35 with 2:52 remaining in the game. Haslett was again within two points when two free throws by DeCook made it 39-37 with 2:14 to go.

Country Day scored the next six points and went 12 for 14 from the line in the fourth quarter. Webb showed no signs of freshman jitters, hitting all six of her free throws.

"I just went up there confident I was going to make them," said Webb, a 77-percent free throw shooter who averages eight points a game. "My coaches said to stick 'em and make sure my wrist is straight. I believed them, and that's what I did."

Haslett may have worn down at the end, not using a player off the bench in the second half until DeCook fouled out with 1:28 left in the fourth quarter.

For DeCook, Makenna Ott and Adrianna Stolicker, it meant the end of four-year careers during which they helped Haslett post a 78-20 (.796) record and reach its first MHSAA Final. The Vikings' longest postseason run prior to this season was in 1995 when they lost in the Class B Semifinals. They made the 1975 and 1976 Class C Quarterfinals.

Haslett was 10-11 the season before those three arrived.

"Their record is wonderful for the four years we've had them," Currier said. "The three girls have done everything we've asked. They changed Haslett, I hope for good. I hope we're on that path. The work outside of practice, working on your game, the good attitude, the total teamwork — they brought all that to us."

Ott had 17 points and 10 rebounds, while DeCook had 17 points for Haslett.

Click for a full box score and video from the postgame press conference.

PHOTO: Detroit Country Day accepts is championship trophy to finish the girls basketball season Saturday night at the Breslin Center.

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.