DEPSA Finishes Championship Beginning

March 18, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Rickea Jackson was the freshman last year, an all-stater in the making, but also the player getting triple teamed by opponents as the most immensely talented of Detroit Edison Public School Academy’s lineup.

On the sideline, coach Monique Brown almost couldn’t watch as her star kept getting “smashed” by opponents. But Jackson wouldn’t let her get down.

“I’d be looking to the side, and she said, ‘Coach, next year,’” Brown recalled Saturday after their season ended in a way neither could have fully expected. “She knew she had eighth graders who were going to be ninth graders who would be able to help her out.”

They sure did.

A program that had never won a District title before this winter won this season’s Class C championship edging Pewamo-Westphalia 46-44 with freshmen combining to score half of those points to follow Jackson’s game-high 21.

“Our dream has finally come true,” Jackson said. “(Coach) would get frustrated on the sideline. But when I was hugging her (Saturday), I told her, ‘I’ve got you, and I will always have your back – no matter what.’”

DEPSA finished this season 21-5, and as players piled onto each other in hugs and screams on the Breslin Center floor, there was only one question left to ask:

Was this just the first of celebrations to come?

In addition to playing numerous freshmen, the Pioneers blazed this trail without a senior – paced also by two juniors to go with Jackson, the lone sophomore and an all-state second teamer this winter.

“People are saying the season is over," said DEPSA freshman Gabrielle Elliott, who made the all-state first team, “but it’s just beginning.”

For these players, yes. But the program’s beginnings were far more humble.

DEPSA’s team is six years old, and Brown has led it from the start. The Pioneers have had winning records every season, but played the first with only six players – and finished their last game that winter, a District Final, with only three on the floor.

A loss Saturday wouldn’t have made this season less successful – something Pewamo-Westphalia coach Steve Eklund also emphasized to his players as they fell into heartache after just missing on a first championship as well.

DEPSA pushed its lead to nine just more than a minute into the fourth quarter, but P-W – which trailed for all but 14 seconds of the game when the score was tied – whittled the advantage down to one point with 1:19 to play. 

The Pioneers drained most of the clock before P-W was forced to foul, and the Pirates looked to catch a break after a missed free throw – but a scramble that saw at least three players dive to the floor ended with the ball back in DEPSA’s hands. Another P-W foul and another Pioneers missed free throw, and the Pirates got the ball back for what looked to be a final attempt to take the lead – but a 3-point attempt from the corner was enveloped by DEPSA freshman Shaulana Wagner and tossed out of bounds.

“As I was going, I was just like, don’t make them score because then we’ll be down,” said Wagner, who has been working through a left ankle injury and seemed to re-aggravate it earlier in the half. “The energy from the crowd and my team picking me up, it gave me the energy to get that.”

The Pirates had one last chance then inbounding the ball with 3.4 seconds to play – but the pass from the corner never made it safely in, knocking off the leg of a DEPSA player and then off P-W on the deflection.

“They’re long. Their arms were everywhere,” Pirates junior Emily Spitzley said. “It was just a blur."

“Five seconds after that inbounds play I told myself I should’ve run the other one. It’s amazing a whole season comes down to just five seconds,” Eklund added.

“I just told the girls no regrets. You’ll have a lot of people come up and tell you what an awesome game it was. You’re going to get tired of saying thank you, but mean it.”

P-W will continue to be a force as well, as freshman Hannah Spitzley led this time with 17 points as her all-state second-team sister Emily had 15.

Jackson added nine rebounds and three blocks to her game-high 21 points, and Wagner had 12 points and two blocks.

“It definitely started off a couple years ago with our middle school program,” Brown said. “To get them to stay with me was a little tough, so when they came over (to high school), when they decided, yes, we will continue to stay here with you and continue this roll with you, we started in August running on the track and in the weight room. We were just trying to build our bodies because I knew we would have to go against seniors going off to college.

“When they committed themselves to that, I knew we had something. But not until the 9 o’clock p.m. practices on Friday nights – then I thought we might have a championship team. And the 5 in the morning practices … everyone showed up, and I commend the ladies for that.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) DEPSA’s Rickea Jackson rises above a pair of P-W defenders to launch a shot Saturday. (Middle) Pirates junior Emily Spitzley drives around a Pioneers player during the Class C Final.

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.