Experience Pays for Veteran Saints

March 14, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Senior Sarah Cullip and junior Kelley Wright learned a few things during their previous trips to Breslin Center that surely came to mind during Thursday’s Class D Semifinal against Climax-Scotts. 

And with neither team able to find the back of the net, both had to call on those lessons to lift the top-ranked and undefeated Saints back to a familiar spot among those who will play on the final day of the season. 

Wright made only 6 of 20 shots from the field, but connected on the go-ahead 3-pointer with 3:54 left in regulation. Cullip missed more than half the game because of foul trouble, but made two free throws with her team up only three and 25 seconds to play as the Saints held on for a 42-36 victory.

St. Ignace (26-0) will face three-time reigning champion Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes at 10 a.m. Saturday to try to earn a second MHSAA championship in three seasons. The Saints fell in last season’s Class C Semifinals, but won Class C in 2011 and finished runner-up in 2010. 

“I think it was really crucial that I’d been here and played in this gym multiple times before, to know I have to calm down in a pressure situation,” said Cullip, who has been on the floor during all four of her team’s Breslin trips. “It’s just another free throw. It could be the first play of the game or the play that saves the game.”

The Saints have proven plenty this season that they can win big. Their first and only game closer than 10 points before Thursday came in the Regional Final, a 74-68 win over No. 6 Posen. St. Ignace has scored more than 80 points six times this season and more than 90 on three occasions. 

But unranked Climax-Scotts (20-6) didn’t allow the Saints to get into their usual rhythm. 

The Panthers finished with more field goals, 17-15, and the same number of rebounds. They actually shot better from the floor, 38 percent to 32. But Climax-Scotts got to the free throw line for only two attempts and had 20 turnovers. St. Ignace made 10 of 20 free throw tries and turned the ball over only 10 times. 

The trip to Breslin was Climax-Scotts’ first to Finals weekend since finishing Class D runner-up in 1986. 

“I can’t be prouder of my girls. They took on the number one ranked team in the state – number one from the get-go – and gave them probably the best game they’ve played all year,” Climax-Scotts coach Dana Perrin said. “I told the girls after the game they had nothing to hang their heads about, be sad about.”

St. Ignace coach Dorene Ingalls, meanwhile, recalled some of the tears in her players’ eyes after they fell during last season’s Class C Semifinals to eventual champion Morley-Stanwood – and how those likely paid off in extra resolve this time around. 

Senior guard Brook Chambers could play only seven minutes Thursday because of an ankle sprain she re-aggravated during the Quarterfinal. Cullip, the team’s second-leading scorer and best defender, played only 15 minutes because of foul trouble. 

“It obviously wasn’t the prettiest of games,” Ingalls said. “But at this state of the game, if you can win ugly, it’s a good thing."

Senior center Fallon Froberg led Climax-Scotts with 14 points and seven rebounds, but she had nearly half of her team’s 17 field goals. “Just them making chaos is the toughest thing,” Climax-Scotts senior guard Janae Langs said of the Saints’ defensive pressure. 

Wright finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. Freshman forward Abbey Ostman grabbed 13 rebounds for the Saints. 

Click for a full box score. 

PHOTOS: (Top) St. Ignace three-year starter Kelley Wright pushes the ball up court during Thursday's Semifinal. (Middle) Wright defends Climax-Scotts' Destiny Froberg (10). (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.