Hartland Earns 1st Finals Berth, 1st As Well for Longtime Coach

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

March 18, 2022

EAST LANSING - The girls basketball community in the state of Michigan probably couldn’t have felt any happier for a coach, and despite being focused on the task at hand, Don Palmer did have some time for self-reflection.

After 43 years of coaching both boys and girls, Palmer finally coached in a state Final Four game, leading his Hartland girls squad into a Division 1 Semifinal against fellow KLAA member Wayne Memorial at Michigan State’s Breslin Center. 

“I’ve done it for a long time and you always dream about it, and you don’t think it’s going to happen because it’s so hard to do,” Palmer said. 

It might have taken Palmer more than four decades to reach the semifinals, but he and Hartland didn’t let its historic run stop there, taking charge in the second half and earning a 52-42 win over Wayne Memorial. 

Hartland (25-1) advanced to meet West Bloomfield for the state championship. 

Wayne/Hartland basketball“It’s always in the back of our minds since we were freshman,” said four-year player Amanda Roach, referring to a state championship. “It’s just always been on our mind.”

Hartland and Wayne Memorial might be in the same league, but they didn’t play each other during the regular season.

They were on a collision course to meet in the KLAA semifinals, but Wayne Memorial was knocked out by Howell in a semifinal (Hartland ended up beating Howell in the title game). 

But the anticipated meeting turned to be delayed, not denied. 

Leading 24-19 at halftime, the Eagles started to gain some separation in the third quarter, going on a 10-2 run to take a 35-23 lead with 3:14 remaining in the third. 

Hartland eventually took a 36-26 lead into the fourth quarter. 

The lead continued to balloon in the fourth quarter, with Hartland breaking down Wayne Memorial in the half-court beautifully and making the good shots that ensued, taking a 46-28 lead with 3:42 remaining in the game. 

Wayne Memorial (24-2) couldn’t mount a serious rally for the rest of the game in suffering its fourth straight loss in the semifinals. 

“Hartland is a very tough team and a veteran-led team,” Wayne Memorial head coach Jarvis Mitchell said. “They just played harder. They just didn’t want to lose and it’s hard to beat a team like that, that doesn’t want to lose.” 

Roach led Hartland with 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and 7-of-10 shooting from the free-throw line. 

Senior Leah Lappin added 13 points for the Eagles, who overcame a 4 of 16 performance from 3-point line by going 13 of 31 on 2-pointers and 14 of 22 from the free-throw line. 

Senior Davai Matthews led the way for Wayne Memorial with 15 points. Junior Mayla Ham added nine points and 11 rebounds. 

Wayne Memorial was just 1 of 11 from 3-point range and 11 of 21 from the free-throw line.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Hartland celebrates advancing to its first Division 1 Final on Friday. (Middle) Wayne Memorial’s Paris Bass (0) cuts to the basket with Gracey Metz defending. (Click for more from 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.