Despite Torn ACL, Lapeer's Erla Drives On

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

February 26, 2020

Hannah Erla was so devastated by the diagnosis, she basically stopped listening.

The Lapeer senior point guard had torn her ACL, which in her mind meant her final high school season was over after just four games. She wouldn’t be able to lead the Lightning to their first District title since her freshman year. She was done playing for coach Andrew Roberts. She would end her career about 100 points shy of 1,000.

As all this was swirling through Erla’s head, the good news came: she could still play.

“There was maybe a pause, then he said it after,” Erla said. “I was so upset, I wasn’t comprehending what he was saying.”

After Erla processed the news, her next decision was a simple one. She wouldn’t have surgery on her knee until after the season. She would wear a brace, and she would finish her high school career on the court. After talking with more doctors, getting the proper clearances and missing just two games, Erla was back in uniform leading the Lightning.

“What drives me to play is that it’s my last year of high school, and I’ll never be able to play with my friends again, or have Roberts coach me,” she said. “I just want to win a District with my team. … It was immediate. I decided right then that I was going to finish out the season and reach my goals to get 1,000 and try and win a District.”

Erla reached 1,000 points in the waning seconds of Lapeer’s game Feb. 7 against Grand Blanc. The District title is yet to be decided, and Erla still has some work to do to ensure she’s on the court to make that happen.

She has missed the Lightning’s past three games because the swelling in her knee has increased. She plans to be on the court, however, for the regular-season finale Friday at home against Bay City John Glenn, and the postseason which begins March 4 for Lapeer.

Betting against her seems unwise considering what Erla already has overcome. But either way, she’s already provided a shining example for the program.

“Hannah always wants to get into the gym,” Roberts said. “Hannah plays and works hard in the offseason. We ran a summer camp for kids, and I made sure that I stressed that she’s a four-year player because of her, because she has put this extra time in. When you have a walking, living example of that, it holds so much more water than just saying it.”

Roberts took over the Lapeer girls basketball program at the same time Erla was entering it. As a freshman, she wasn’t a starter, but she still managed to earn honorable mention all-Saginaw Valley League recognition. As a sophomore and junior, she earned first-team honors.

Lapeer, which was 5-13 entering Tuesday’s game against Midland Dow, started this season 3-0, with all three wins coming by double digits. It was early in the fourth game, a 41-39 loss to Davison on Dec. 13, when the Lightning lost its leader. Erla ran toward a Davison player who was bobbling the ball, but as she planted her foot and tried to turn, her knee gave out. Erla said she didn’t hear the pop that players so often recall when tearing their ACL, and she was able to walk on it. The trainer told her she couldn’t return, however.

“Our trainer went out there and knew she was done for that game,” Roberts said. “When they say they’re done, and it’s a knee issue, you tend to think the worst.”

Erla’s tear was described as straight across, and not jagged, which allowed her to get the green light to play with a brace. She returned to action Jan. 7.

“I’m happy, selfishly, to have her,” Roberts said. “But I’ve never seen it done before, so I was pretty apprehensive, because the last thing I wanted to do was hurt her. I was excited to have her, but at the same time very, very nervous. When you start talking to people, there were other situations out there, which kind of eases your mind a little bit. You have to go by what the expert says, not what I think.”

Erla had to adjust to playing with her injury, as she had lost some of her signature explosiveness. Roberts said her strength as a shooter became more prominent.

“I just let things come more naturally rather than before when I tried to do most of the work,” she said. “This time, I just waited for my shot. At first, it was (frustrating) because I wasn’t expecting it. I was expecting to play how it used to be, but then I adjusted and I wasn’t frustrated anymore.”

In 14 games this season, Erla is averaging 12.6 points, three rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. She is also shooting 80 percent from the free throw line.

One of those free throws earned Erla her 1,000th point one month after she returned to action. She said the moment was made more special because of what she had to endure to get there.

“It was a lot of pressure; I was all worked up over it,” Erla said. “After I hit it, I was overwhelmed with emotion and so thankful to reach that goal. I was just beyond happy and overwhelmed with emotion. I didn’t know what to think. I was crying and hugging my teammates.”

After the season ends, and after spring break, Erla said she will have her surgery in early spring. She is still hoping to play basketball at the next level, and Roberts said she has been in contact with several NAIA programs. The most important quality Erla, who holds a 4.1 GPA, said she is looking for is a good engineering program.

Roberts says that whoever signs Erla will be bringing in a great asset.

“I would sign her because right now, she needs to score in high school for us to be successful,” he said. “It might take a year or so, but when you develop her into more of a point guard, you’re going to have a guard who can break a defender down and get into the paint – that's what she does. A healthy Hannah can get into the key at will.”

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) Lapeer’s Hannah Erla lines up for a free throw against Bay City Western this season. (Middle) Erla prepares to make her move against Grand Blanc. (Photos by Ross Carithers, courtesy of Hannah Erla.)

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.