Frankenmuth Drives League Streak to 97
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
December 13, 2016
Tom Keller is willing to talk about the streak if you ask him.
He’s starting to get used to it.
“It’s funny; it seems like a lot of people are bringing it up lately,” said the Frankenmuth girls basketball coach, who has led his team to 97 straight Tri-Valley Conference East wins. “We actually talked about it in practice the other day for one of the few times.
"(The streak) happens on a day-to-day basis. In our program, we don’t really set a lot of goals; we’re much more concerned about the process. If we do things the right way day after day, those wins and those streaks kind of take care of themselves.”
Frankenmuth hasn’t lost a conference game since Feb. 10, 2009 -- a 37-31 setback against Birch Run. Since then, eight senior classes have graduated, and dozens of players have gone through their entire varsity careers without a conference loss.
While it’s not something Frankenmuth players dwell on, it’s also not something they take for granted.
“You don’t just show up and put on your uniform and get the streak,” senior Hannah Karwat said. “We do have to work hard to get the winning streak we have. We work hard in practice.”
Karwat is one of very few Frankenmuth players on this year’s team with varsity experience. She’s a third-year player and first-year starter. Her classmate Lindsey Mertz started several games as a junior and is in her fourth year with the team, but Frankenmuth graduated five of its top six players from a year ago.
The Eagles have done well so far, starting the season 3-1, including earning a 36-34 win this past week against TVC East rival Essexville-Garber to stretch the streak to 97. Their next league games are Wednesday at Bridgeport and home Friday against Millington.
“It’s always an interesting way to start the season when you have kids who are brand new to varsity,” Keller said. “Also, we have those kids that are returning in completely different roles than what they played in the past. We have two seniors who have played, and they’re going from being role players to go-to girls on this year’s team.
“It’s fun. I think it makes for great competition. When you have so many openings for a new team, it’s fun and great competition because everybody is vying for those roles. It does seem to draw out the best competitors.”
Mertz has settled in as a forward, although she has experience as a post player and a guard from her first three seasons and can go back to either if the Eagles need it. Karwat’s role has expanded following the graduation of a pair of 6-foot-plus post players. She’s 5-4½, but appears unfazed by the height disadvantage she faces each night.
Mertz and Karwat are two of five seniors on the team. Among the others is Sara Aldrich, who spent her junior season toward the end of the bench but has worked her way into a starting role, something Keller said he loves to see. Kayla Kueffner and Emily Janson, the Eagles’ other two seniors, are injured and have yet to play this season.
What those seniors may lack in experience, they make up for with leadership.
“Something that our program has valued is leadership,” Mertz said. “We have been doing leadership lunches once a week where we meet and talk about leadership and how serving the other girls on the team and dedicating time would help everyone grow on the team.”
Frankenmuth is matching that leadership with an aggressive style of play, making up for a lack of size.
“We’re making efforts to really attack the paint,” Keller said. “We still get touches inside, but we do it through penetration. In years where we’ve had two 6 footers, we were a high-post, low-post kind of team and we took advantage of that. This year, we’re very guard-oriented.”
Changing his team’s style based on personnel has helped Keller find success in each of his previous 10 seasons as Frankenmuth’s girls coach. The Eagles have won a conference title in each of those seasons, and added five Class B District titles, including at the end of the last two seasons.
Keller said he was fortunate to inherit a great program, one that won the Class B title in 1992 and Class C in 1996 and also owns four MHSAA Finals runner-up finishes.
It’s a tradition, Mertz and Karwat said, that has girls in the community’s youth program pining to put on a Frankenmuth jersey one day. They also grow up knowing what it takes to get that honor.
“When I was younger, a lot of the girls in my grade loved basketball,” Mertz said. “But a lot of girls have quit because they know what’s expected and they know they can’t match that effort. Sometimes we’ll frighten some girls out of the program, but that makes the team we have one of the toughest group of girls because you have to be tough to be a part of it.
“Usually the girls that come out are the ones that are in it for the long haul, and willing to do the dirty work and put in the effort.”
Keller said he wasn’t quite sure what would equal a successful season for this year’s team. Getting better and more consistent each day is his main focus, and he’s optimistic that will happen.
As for the streak, Keller and the Eagles would love for it to survive. If it doesn’t, however, they’ll simply work to start the next one.
“It’s going to come to an end eventually, whether it’s this week or later this season or next season,” Keller said. “When it happens, we’ll just come back the next day and get ready for the next game.”
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) Frankenmuth's Brooklin Karwat drives to the basket against Essexville-Garber last week. (Middle) Eagles coach Tom Keller speaks with Kaylee Kujat during the tightly-contested matchup. (Below) Frankenmuth players celebrate after defeating the Dukes 56-54. (Photos by Chip DeGrace/Eagle Eye Photography.)
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.
But 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 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 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.