Heritage Girls Pushing for Breslin Return

January 6, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Saginaw Heritage girls basketball coach Vonnie DeLong doesn’t start a senior this season and has three freshmen playing prominent roles.

But she also has three starters back from the lineup that made the Class A Semifinals a year ago – and the Hawks' sights are set on contending again this March.

Heritage is the Applebee’s Team of the Month for December thanks to a 6-0 start that included a key Saginaw Valley League North win over Midland and ended with a 39-29 victory over reigning Class B champion Detroit Country Day in the marquee game of the Motor City Roundball Classic.

The Hawks finished 22-4 last season and 16-5 in 2013-14, their first under DeLong, who was part of three MHSAA championship teams as a player at Carrollton from 1979-1982 and coached Saginaw Arthur Hill’s Class A runner-up team in 1998. Heritage improved to 7-0 on Tuesday with a 38-10 win over Mount Pleasant and has won 13 of its last 14 games dating to last season.

“The expectations from the kids’ perspective are very high,” DeLong said. “They want to win. They want to get back to the Breslin. With as many kids as we had coming back, and with what we added, it’s a realistic goal for them – but they know it's going to be hard to do.”

Heritage has beaten all of its opponents but one by at least 10 points, downing Flushing by only nine, 36-27, on opening night. Five of seven players who saw the floor in the Semifinal loss to DeWitt last season are back, including returning starters Jaela Richardson, Haley Brefka and Courtney McInerney. Richardson is a sophomore; Brefka and McInerney are juniors. Senior center Jenna Falkenberg and sophomore guard Jessi Bicknell both also played at Breslin last March.

But the lineup, while experienced, is paced in scoring by a pair of freshmen. Mallory McCartney and Moira Joiner lead the balanced offensive effort averaging 9.6 and 8.3 points per game, respectively, with Joiner adding 7.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and three steals per game and McCartney grabbing 2.5 steals per contest. 

Richardson grabs 7.2 rebounds to go with 7.3 points per game, while Bicknell averages 6.4 points and 2.5 steals and McInerney grabs six rebounds per game.

The Hawks also are giving up only 23 points on average. No opponent has scored 30. Country Day's 29 points were their fewest since scoring 30 in a Quarterfinal loss to Flint Powers Catholic in 2013.

“Country Day is so good, and every year; they’ve just been phenomenal,” said DeLong, who also coached at Saginaw Valley State University and played at Notre Dame and Michigan. “For our kids to get a win like that, against such a good team, it’s huge. Especially for the young kids.”

Past Teams of the Month:
November: Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard volleyball Report
October: Benton Harbor football – Report

September: Mason and Okemos boys soccer – Report

PHOTOS: (Top) Heritage's Jessi Bicknell pushes the ball upcourt with Jaela Richardson calling for the pass. (Middle) Heritage got past Country Day, 39-29, to cap December. (Photos courtesy of Chris Bicknell.)

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.