East Kentwood Holds On, Earns Title Shot

March 17, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Few opponents this season had played East Kentwood as close as Southfield Arts & Technology did during Friday’s Class A Semifinal at the Breslin Center.

But Falcons coach Jimmy Carter wasn’t worried. And his players were only a little bit cautious as they set themselves up to play for the school’s first MHSAA basketball title.

East Kentwood led by as many as 20 and by 11 into the final quarter. But although Southfield A&T cut the deficit all the way to two points with 4:45 to play, the Falcons held on for a 55-51 win to earn their first championship game berth.

They’ve claimed 22 of their 26 wins this season by 12 or more points, so their experience in close games is limited.

“Basically, I think we pulled through because I thought we were better than they were, and the kids believed they were better than they were, and everyone else we’ve played we thought we were better than,” Carter said. “That’s not confidence; it’s just a little bit of a fact.

“It may sound a little conceited, but I thought we were underrated all year. We weren’t even ranked in our own area, so we had something to prove that we’re better than what people think. I really like being the underdog, and I think my kids do too.”

East Kentwood, ranked No. 9 in Class A heading into the postseason, will face unranked Flushing in Saturday’s noon championship game. Neither has won an MHSAA championship or played for one.

But the Falcons have been building to this point. East Kentwood won one game in 2012-13, but since have increased that victory total to seven, 11, then 14, and this season sit 26-1 with that only loss in its second game to Grand Rapids Catholic Central.

Moving on Friday seemed all but a done deal after the Falcons’ lead reached 20 with 3:47 to go in the third quarter. But No. 6 Southfield A&T – which beat top-ranked Detroit Martin Luther King on the way to the Semifinals – wasn’t about to go that quietly.

The Warriors – a product of the merger between the former Southfield High and Southfield-Lathrup in the fall – launched a 15-0 run with Miss Basketball finalist Deja Church scoring 10 of her game-high 26 points to lead the way. A Church basket with 4:45 to play pulled A&T to within 44-42.

“In the locker room (at halftime), we went in there, and basically I just started (saying) the game isn’t over. We were down 15 points. That’s nothing,” Church said. “So we just tried to shake off the first half, and the third quarter we came out playing really hard, cut the lead down to four or two, and at that point I felt like we could get it.”

A 3-pointer by junior D’Layna Holliman put the Warriors behind only 52-49 with 1:03 to play. After East Kentwood senior Amari Brown made one of two free throw attempts, A&T had two chances to get within two. A foul put Falcons sophomore guard Mauriya Barnes on the line for two free throws with 25 seconds left – and she connected on both, pushing the lead back to six and the game out of reach.

Carter noted after that his team missed a number of layups and connected on only 9 of 24 free throws. But Barnes showed some necessary poise knocking down her pair at crunch time.

“We were confident, but we couldn’t get too cocky. We can’t ever underestimate a team, because when we do, what happens happened,” Barnes said. “We get overconfident, they make a run, and we have to really humble ourselves and we have to play our game no matter what.”

Barnes scored a team-high 16 points and grabbed six rebounds for East Kentwood, and junior center Corinne Jemison also shined in the clutch with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

Church added 12 rebounds, four assists and five steals for A&T (22-5). Sophomore forward Alexis Johnson added 13 points and 17 rebounds and freshman guard Cheyenne McEvans grabbed 10 boards.

Even with the loss Friday, Southfield A&T turned what could have been an awkward situation this season into an overall win. Church (Lathrup) and Holliman (Southfield High) recalled after how they didn’t care for each other much before becoming classmates and then teammates this school year. Coach Michele Marshall – who led Lathrup for 21 seasons and to the Class A title in 2005 before taking over this new program – offered lasting praise.

“D’Layna spoke about the fact that a lot of people think this is an upset that we even got here. But the thing I love about the kids I inherited from Southfield High is they play with a chip on their shoulder and they believe anything is possible,” Marshall said. “And so after we started to blend together, and we understood that we were going to be one as a team, my coaching staff and I felt we could get to Breslin.

“We fell short of the state championship, but make no mistake about it: I’m more proud of this team than probably any team I’ve coached.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) East Kentwood’s Mauriya Barnes cuts through traffic during Friday’s Class A Semifinal. (Middle) The Warriors’ Deja Church glides in for a shot.

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.

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.