DeMott's Long-Revered Legacy Grows to Include All-Time Wins Record
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
January 11, 2023
This past Friday night felt like a home game for Al DeMott.
Family, friends and former players were packed into the stands to watch him set the MHSAA record for career wins by a girls basketball coach.
There was a postgame celebration on the court, and a congratulatory message displayed on the video board.
Of course, DeMott and the Wolves hadn’t just won a game in their home gym – they had done it at Unionville-Sebewaing.
But anywhere in the Thumb can feel like home.
“USA, they really did a lot,” DeMott said. “They put a thing up on the board, their coach came out after the game and said all kinds of nice things. USA was a very generous host. They went above and beyond.
“That’s the way it is in Thumb basketball; we all look after each other and support each other. In all sports, really. When one team goes on a run, the whole Thumb gets on the bandwagon.”
Sandusky’s win was the 798th of DeMott’s career, putting him ahead of retired Detroit Country Day coach Frank Orlando on the all-time list.
It’s a record more than 40 years in the making, as DeMott took over the program in 1979. In that time, Sandusky has won 23 league titles, 27 District titles, seven Regional titles and earned an MHSAA Finals runner-up finish (1999). The program hasn’t had a losing season since 1982.
“I’ve been doing it a long time,” DeMott said. “Our program has had a lot of success. We’ve had a pretty good run going for a lot of years. The numbers don’t really mean that much to me. It’s nice for our program that it’s been successful as it has. That it’s been steady for a long time. There are a lot of good people that have done a good job.”
DeMott’s career record stands at 799-206, as the Wolves won another game Tuesday night to push their season record to 9-2.
Before he’s done, the record will no doubt be well above 800. How far above depends on how long DeMott sticks around. Right now, there’s no immediate plan to stop.
“Every year, when you get done with the year and your season ends, you’re tired,” DeMott said. “But I’m still having a lot of fun doing it. Another thing, God’s blessed me with good health. I’ve been fortunate to keep going strong with this. I’ve been working on trying to get someone to take it over – I’ve got a granddaughter in eighth grade, and I would like to sit and watch her.”
One thing that keeps DeMott going is the support he gets from those around him in the program.
He’s had the opportunity to coach with his three daughters, Desiree, Allison and Marissa, who also played for him. His longtime assistant coach and childhood friend, Ray Lee, has been on the staff since 1982. DeMott said that during his time at Sandusky, he’s had only six or seven JV coaches.
“I have such a good support system,” DeMott said. “I have loyal assistant coaches.”
The community, both in Sandusky and throughout the Thumb, also has shown DeMott tremendous support, even as he was struggling to get the program off the ground in the early years.
“With the start I had here, if somebody got off to the start I did, they’d be gone, probably,” DeMott said. “It’s been phenomenal. I can’t believe all the texts and emails and calls I’ve got. People have gone above and beyond. There’s been a lot of support. We’ve always got really good support.”
And, of course, nothing can beat the support that DeMott gets at home, as his wife Tammy has been there since the beginning.
“My wife has been a saint,” DeMott said. “When I first started doing this coaching, she was a little iffy about it. When I first started, I was working at the bank and I only had two weeks vacation. We used to use one of the weeks of vacation to go to team camp. She stays up and does stats with me. She’s my biggest supporter I’ve ever had.”
All that support has allowed DeMott to build a consistent winner at a public school with an enrollment just over 300 students.
He started a youth program fairly early in his time at Sandusky, and it’s still going strong. He said there were 40 third and fourth graders in the gym this past Saturday starting their latest season.
As kids grow up in the program, they dream of one day playing for the varsity team and DeMott.
“This achievement couldn’t have been accomplished by a more humble and deserving person,” said Haley Nelson, a 2018 Sandusky grad who played for DeMott before playing at Saginaw Valley State. “In Sandusky, playing under Coach DeMott is something you look forward to as soon as you start playing basketball in elementary school. He’s built a standard as to what Sandusky girls basketball is, and it made you want to work hard to live up to it. The program he’s built is a testament to his hard work and dedication year-round. I think it would be tough to find another high school coach as committed to their program as Al is. He sees each of his players as people far beyond what they can contribute on the court, and for that reason, the impact he has on his players extends far beyond basketball.”
Nelson is one of many Sandusky players who have gone onto play at the next level. Many have stayed connected to the sport through coaching, as well. But in general, DeMott touts the academic success of his program, and the pride he has in the citizens his former players have grown to be.
“A lot of our former players, they’ve all done a lot of really good things,” DeMott said. “I couldn’t be prouder. There were quite a few there (at USA). It meant a lot to see them.”
One former player-turned-coach is Wayne State women’s basketball coach Carrie Lohr, who has set records of her own. She’s in her 12th season at Wayne State, and has won nearly 200 games. She became the program’s all-time winningest coach in 2019.
She counts DeMott as one of her biggest influences.
"Al is truly one of the best coaches in the state of Michigan," Lohr said. "I believe he could coach any team or sport to its highest potential. Al has an unwavering dedication and passion for the game of basketball and teaching young people. He is selfless, positive, consistent, knowledgeable and truly cares about the players he leads.
“Playing for Coach Al DeMott is still some of my best basketball memories ever. He has truly made a positive impact on my life as he has done for so many who have worn the Sandusky jersey. I wouldn't be where I am today without his mentorship. I am forever grateful to him and his support of me long after I left the court."
With the record behind him, DeMott now hopes the focus can return to this year’s team, which is 9-2 with its losses coming by a combined five points.
It’s clear he’s excited about this group, as the energy in his voice ratcheted up when asked about his players.
“I’ve got an awesome group to coach,” DeMott said. “They’re really good, smart, hard workers. They want to be successful, and they really like to play together. They love playing together. They’re a special group.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Sandusky girls basketball coach Al DeMott stands alongside his current team after they helped him break the MHSAA record for girls basketball victories Friday at Unionville-Sebewaing. (Middle) The USA scoreboard celebrated DeMott’s accomplishment. (Below) Players line up to congratulate DeMott on his milestone win. (Photos courtesy of Sandusky High School.)
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.