Holland Sophomore Honored for Courage

April 15, 2020

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

What LayRay Paw has experienced and overcome during her still-young life is likely unimaginable for most she encounters on the basketball court.

The Holland High sophomore and her siblings were forced to navigate a refugee camp in Thailand and the deaths of their parents – who had fled Myanmar before she was born. They then came to the United States and began a new life with a new language, new adoptive family and new customs.

And she has excelled. 

Paw was recognized today as one of two winners of the 2020 Jersey Mike’s Naismith High School Basketball Courage Award.

The award recognizes a players who have “consistently gone above and beyond throughout the basketball season and (have) demonstrated courage in their approach to their team, their school, the game and their community.”

Following is an except from Paw’s nomination for the award, as told by adoptive parents Marsha and Bob Gustavson. Visit the Naismith Courage Award website for more including video with Paw, her parents and her Holland basketball and soccer coaches.

LayRay Paw was born in a refugee camp in Thailand called Mae La Oon. This particular refugee camp was for the people who were forced to flee from their home country of Myanmar due to war. They had to leave everything behind. When LayRay Paw was only a year old, her father was beaten to death after he attempted to leave the refugee camp in search of food and supplies for his wife and six children. Unfortunately, when LayRay was three years old, her mother became very ill and passed away. There are very minimal medical services for people living in refugee camps. After LayRay's mother passed away, she and her four older siblings were raised by her oldest sister, who was fourteen at the time. They survived on rationed rice, provided by the Thai government as well as anything else they could gather to eat from the river and forests. Because food was scarce, medical care almost non-existent, and fearing for the safety of her family, LayRay's oldest sister decided to sign up with the United Nations program to seek asylum in a different country.

In 2010, when LayRay was six years old, she and her five siblings were resettled in the United States and were all adopted by us. It was a huge culture shock for LayRay and her siblings upon arriving in the US. They did not speak or understand any English, had never seen or used running water, electricity, or toilets. They also had to learn to eat all new food, although rice continues to be the staple for each meal. Since being in the USA for ten years, LayRay now eats most American food, with the exception of cheese. Not only has LayRay completely caught up to her peers in school, but she excels in the classroom and she participates in many different extracurricular activities. Despite all that she has been through in her short life, she has demonstrated such resilience and is now a teenager who loves life, gives 100% to whatever she is working on and is always encouraging and helpful to others.

On top of basketball LayRay also plays soccer. During basketball season she works with our community to help run our elementary school camps. Girls are drawn to her. She is an amazing positive influence.

Photos courtesy of the Gustavson family and Holland athletic department.

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.