DeWitt Sees Way to 1st Final since 1977

March 20, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – DeWitt girls basketball coach Bill McCullen has seen the motivation for his team’s longest tournament run in nearly 40 years in the eyes of his players for months.

His five seniors found their determination in the eyes of their former teammates at the ends of the last three seasons.

Most years, McCullen carries a few underclassmen on varsity. That additional time molds those players into the next team leaders – and also has allowed these seniors the chance to experience first-hand the disappointment of ending the last three seasons in the District tournament.

DeWitt played in its fourth MHSAA Semifinal on Friday of McCullen’s 19 seasons as coach. The Panthers will play for its first championship since 1977 on Saturday thanks to a 44-36 win over Saginaw Heritage – and the motivation they gained from falling short earlier in their careers.

“More toward the end of every season, we’re not happy with how we finish. That fuels every season from there after,” four-year varsity guard Claudia Reid said. “We get a little farther each time, but it’s always ended in disappointment.

“… (And) the seniors who graduated before us, that we played with when we were in the younger grades, we saw how they went out,” three-year senior forward Abby Nakfoor continued. “We’ve seen how much heartbreak they had to go through with that, and we didn’t want to go out with a loss.”

DeWitt (25-1) will face reigning champion Bloomfield Hills Marian in Saturday’s noon championship game at MSU.

The Panthers had last played in an MHSAA Semifinal in 2009, in Class B. They made the jump into Class A for the 2011-12 school year, and this winter for the first time found similar tournament success.

Seniors Maria Moss, Cayce Palmer and Alex Bilbo all joined Nakfoor and Reid with the varsity as sophomores in 2012-13 and were part of a league title team that winter. But the team didn’t advance past the second game of the District either of the last two.

“I’ve seen it in their eyes, and this goes back months and months and months,” McCullen said. “These kids … have been through a lot. Knee injuries, blood clots on the brain and all kinds of things. We just have some kids that don’t want to be denied right now.”

They had to answer only once Friday, but at a crucial juncture as the Hawks appeared on the verge of breaking away after pushing to get back even.

DeWitt led by as many as eight points during the first half, but found itself slowed way down by the Hawks’ zone defense and trailing 19-18 three minutes into the third quarter after a basket by Heritage sophomore Haley Brefka.

But the Panthers didn’t allow the Hawks to gain a foothold. The teams traded a few shots and turnovers over the next three minutes before Reid found Moss on a transition bucket that seemed to kick the pace back in DeWitt’s favor.

The Panthers’ seniors scored 21 of the team’s 23 points the rest of the way.

Reid finished with 11 points and six assists and Nakfoor added eight points and five rebounds. Junior center Lilly George added eight points and six rebounds.

Saginaw Heritage coach Vonnie DeLong spoke after of her senior guards Allie Miller and Aubree Snow, who combined for 19 points, six rebounds and six assists.

Her words could've applied to DeWitt’s veterans as well. 

“You don’t get here without guard play. It just doesn’t happen,” DeLong said. “That’s usually who wins it, teams with good guard play. Guards will carry you this far.”

Heritage finished 24-4 after its longest tournament run since winning Class A in 2002.  The Hawks played two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior with their senior guards – and should bring back a number of players with valuable experience for another run next winter after making one that DeLong admitted most in Michigan probably didn’t expect.

“I’m disappointed I couldn’t play one last game here, and with this team,” Snow said. “But we did come this far, so I’m proud of that.”

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

PHOTOS: (Top) DeWitt’s Claudia Reid drives to the basket with Heritage’s Allie Miller (20) defending Friday. (Middle) Miller looks for an opening with Reid closing off part of the lane.

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.