Hartland Sets Sights on Unprecedented Heights

January 14, 2020

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

This season isn’t half over for the Hartland girls basketball team. And as impressive as they’ve performed over the first six weeks, there are lessons from the last few seasons they must continue to recall with expectations high this winter.

Take last week’s 50-40 win over Plymouth. The Eagles trailed early 14-1 – reinforcing coach Don Palmer’s message that every opponent is aiming to bring its best against a Hartland team with championship aspirations.

“I think a lot of times they’ve very focused and excited,” Palmer said of his team. “But … being teenagers, sometimes they’re complacent and take it for granted – and that’s just natural. That’s when we get upset, so we just kinda battle that a little bit.”

The hope is winning those prepares the Eagles for an unprecedented opportunity at the end of March.

The Hartland girls basketball team is the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” for December, opening with four wins including victories over a pair of reigning MHSAA Finals champions – Division 4 Adrian Lenawee Christian (61-40) and Division 1 Saginaw Heritage (37-26) in the Eagles’ first two games. They closed the month with double-digit wins over Okemos and Bay City John Glenn, two more programs with high hopes this winter, and have since moved to 6-0 heading into Tuesday’s game against Howell.

Palmer has coached high school varsity basketball a combined 71 seasons, leading teams to 963 wins through Friday – the most in Michigan high school history. So when he says this season’s Hartland girls basketball team is the most talented he’s coached, that carries significant weight.

Palmer ranks seventh in MHSAA girls basketball history with a 616-311 record after leading Milford from 1977-2009 and then the Eagles since 2009-10. He quickly can recount the three athletes he sent on to Division I college athletics during those first three decades – before then offering context by describing how this Hartland team is led by University of Michigan recruit Whitney Sollom with at least five more players holding or on the verge of opportunities at the next level.

So talent isn’t a question. But will this also turn out to be Palmer’s best team?

Hartland has made the Class A/Division 1 Quarterfinals the last two seasons, finishing 22-4 a year ago. Sollom, a 6-foot-3 post, has been on varsity all four of her seasons, with the team a combined 70-12 during that time.

A likely Miss Basketball candidate, Sollom was averaging 11.4 points and 12 rebounds per game entering last Friday’s 44-point win over Salem. Leading the team in scoring is Nikki Dompierre at 12.6 ppg, while Madi Moyer adds 8.2 and 7.4 rebounds per game. All three are senior captains.

Junior Syd Caddell and sophomore Amanda Roach also are back as the team returned its entire starting lineup this winter.

The challenges will start locally. Undefeated Brighton and the one-loss Highlanders also both play in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West. Howell also is in Hartland’s District.

Palmer said his team’s unselfishness and support of one another have impressed him most. But of course there’s a long way to go this season – and the team is hoping to build to a big finish as it seeks its first MHSAA Finals championship in this sport.

“We’re really in a great cycle,” Palmer said. “When I got the job at Hartland, I had been in the same league at Milford, and we were beating their varsity by 1-2 points. But the lower levels, we could just seeing it coming. My comment to my staff is we’ll have no excuses for not winning.

“I’m very happy and thrilled about the success, but I also knew we’d have players.”

Past Teams of the Month, 2019-20

November: Bridgman girls cross country - Report
Allegan boys tennis - Report
September: Ishpeming Westwood girls tennis - Report

PHOTOS: (Top) Hartland's Whitney Sollom puts up a shot during a December win over Okemos. (Middle) The Eagles celebrate with a team photo after the win over Bay City John Glenn. (Top photo courtesy of State Champs Sports Network; middle photo courtesy of the Hartland girls basketball program.)

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.