Hamilton Wins League, Eyes Historic Run
February 22, 2017
By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
HAMILTON – The Hamilton girls basketball team had high expectations this season after the loss of only one senior from last year’s District championship squad.
So far, the Hawkeyes are living up to those lofty goals.
Hamilton entered the week ranked No. 7 in Class B while boasting a sparkling 17-1 record, and improved it to 18-1 with a 61-33 win over Zeeland East on Tuesday. It already has clinched the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green title outright.
“I knew we could have a good team,” said 14th-year head coach Dan VanHekken. “We didn’t win conference last year, but won Districts, so we had a little postseason experience with the kids we had coming back.
“They definitely wanted to win conference, which we feel good about and they should be proud of that for sure, and this has been a pretty challenging league year in and year out.”
The lone loss on Hamilton’s resume occurred in December against Hudsonville, which reached the MHSAA Class A Semifinals a year ago.
The Hawkeyes have gone unscathed in conference play, and have one remaining game against Zeeland West in their attempt for an unbeaten conference season.
“Winning conference was one of our goals, so it was cool to achieve that,” senior Brooklyn Groenheide said. “We worked really hard in the offseason and set some high goals. So far we’re doing pretty good in achieving those goals, and we just have to keep it going. We have to take it one game at a time.”
District play for girls basketball begins next week, and Hamilton is looking toward capturing another crown.
That road will be complicated, though. The Hawkeyes open with conference rival Hudsonville Unity Christian (10-8) and with the possibility of a third meeting with another conference foe, Holland Christian (15-4), in the District Final.
“Unity played us tough the first time, and we won by one at their place,” VanHekken said. “We got them good the second time, but they are playing some good basketball and the third time is never easy. We have a tough District with Holland Christian on the other side.”
Hamilton has never gone beyond the Regional Semifinals, but hopes to set a new standard this time around.
Three years ago, the Hawkeyes posted a school record with 21 wins.
“We’re hoping to make it through Districts, and getting past the first round of Regionals would be a huge goal for us,” senior guard Joslyn Bronkhorst said. “It would be awesome for us to win Regionals, but we will see. Having to beat a team three teams (in Districts) can be tricky, but I think we can do it.”
VanHekken has relied heavily on Bronkhorst and Groenheide. Both have been staples in the program as four-year varsity players.
“We rely on them every day in practice and in the offseason being in the gym,” VanHekken said. “They stay after and shoot, and they are an extension of my voice to the girls. They know expectations, and they deliver.”
A total of six seniors are on the roster. Other main contributors to this year’s success have been seniors Franesha Robinson and Annaka Ediger, junior Ashlyn Wolfran and sophomore Bria Schrotenboer.
“I think on any given night we can compete with some of the better teams,” VanHekken said. “We haven’t seen many teams from the other side of the state, but we feel good about what we have done this year and I think we’ve made a name for ourselves as a team to beat.”
Hamilton, which features an up-tempo offense and pressure defense, doesn’t have a high-scoring superstar on the team.
Instead, it’s a balanced group that shares in the scoring load.
“I have maybe one girl averaging 12 points a game, but I have four or five kids averaging between 8 and 10 points,” VanHekken said. “I love coaching that type of team. I don’t like running a particular set for one kid. I just love running a motion game that is pretty equal for everybody. They can play team basketball, and it’s just fun to play that way.”
Defense has been a main emphasis, according to VanHekken. The Hawkeyes have held opponents to 30 or fewer points eight times.
“They’ve bought in, and they’re enjoying it,” he said. “They understand that deflections can lead to steals, and steals to points.”
Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at[email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Hamilton's Bria Schrotenboer maintains possession against Byron Center this season. (Middle) Senior Franesha Robinson handles the ball in the post against Hudsonville Unity Christian. (Photos courtesy of Covering Hawkeye Sports.)
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.