Hot-Shooting Country Day Wins for Coach O

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 18, 2017

EAST LANSING – As the final seconds of his 12th MHSAA title run at Detroit Country Day ticked away, legendary coach Frank Orlando was serenaded as his school's student section chanted: “We love Coach O.”

Orlando acknowledged the fans, wiped away some tears, and moments later accepted the Class B girls basketball championship trophy along with a group of girls that were extra special to him. And after their 59-48 win against Ypsilanti Arbor Prep at the Breslin Center, they made it very clear that he’s extra special to them as well.

“This season, I really wasn’t thinking about the loss (in the 2016 Semifinals); for me personally, I was playing for Coach O,” Country Day senior Destiny Pitts said. “During the offseason last year after we lost, Coach O had a stroke, so it just kind of hit me hard. This season, I’ve been playing for him, and just knowing how important it is for him. Coming into this, we just had extreme confidence because we just knew we wanted to take the state championship back to Country Day for the fans and our community.”

Country Day’s 12th title came two years after No. 11, which was won with many of the same players as the latest triumph. That one came as a bit of a surprise to Orlando – this one brought out plenty of emotion.

“When we won it when they were sophomores and freshmen, I was excited and I was very happy – I was kind of surprised,” said Orlando, who opened the press conference by stating he planned to come back in 2017-18 for his 37th season at Country Day and 51st overall. “This year, it was more emotional because they’re leaving me now. I like that they’re going, don’t get me wrong, but it’s kind of sad for me.”

Country Day’s shooting effort was the opposite of sad, as the Yellowjackets hit 22 of 34 (64.7 percent) shots from the field, including 7 of 12 (58.3 percent) from 3-point range. Pitts led the way with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Tylar Bennett had 15 points on 7 of 8 shooting, and Kaela Webb had 13 points and nine assists.

“I think we did that by moving the ball,” Pitts said. “We weren’t forcing shots, we would just keep swinging the ball until we found the open person, and I think each individual player on the team did extremely well sharing the ball, and when they were open they shot it.”

The Yellowjackets (26-1) led for most of the game, moving ahead late in the first quarter and never relinquishing the advantage. They jumped out to a 27-15 halftime lead, holding Arbor Prep to 5 of 24 (20.8 percent) shooting during the opening 16 minutes.

“I thought Country Day played a real good game,” Arbor Prep coach Rod Wells said. “They made a lot of shots, and first half we didn’t make shots, and it was just hard to make up that gap. I’m truly proud of my girls, my girls brought effort, but sometimes the ball just doesn’t fall that way.”

Arbor Prep (27-1), which won the Class C title a year ago, pushed back in the second half, but every time it looked to get momentum and cut into the Country Day lead, the Yellowjackets had an immediate answer.

Ro’zhane Wells hit a pair of 3s on back-to-back possessions, but Country Day responded with a jumper from Webb the first time and a 3 from Pitts after the second. A Lasha Petree 3-pointer cut the Country Day lead to 11 early in the fourth quarter, but Maxine Moore’s putback halted the momentum. Another Pitts’ 3 on Country Day’s next possession pushed the lead back to 16 with less than six minutes to play.

Arbor Prep cut the lead to nine twice with less than three minutes to play, Country Day responded with a pair of press-breaking layups from Bennett, the second sparking a 9-1 run that put the game away for good. Webb assisted on all but one of those baskets during the run, the other being a 3-pointer she drained from straightaway.

“We played a lot better in the second half,” Rod Wells said. “It took us a while to adjust to the zone. Country Day played us man in the beginning, then they went to the matchup zone and they gave us some problems until halftime. But I’m really proud of my girls, three losses in two seasons. We beat the Class A state champs and the Class C state champs; we just didn’t beat the Class B.”

Petree led Arbor Prep with 15 points and six rebounds, while Wells had 14 points. Adrienne Anderson added seven points and five assists for the Gators, who were making their third straight trip to Breslin and had won 36 straight games.

“I think it’s been a phenomenal run,” Anderson, a senior, said. “I think we’ve pushed each other the whole time, and we’ve had a lot of fun. I love these girls to death. Even after we leave we’re still going to be close, because these are my sisters. Every day in practice we worked hard. I feel like everybody left everything they could’ve done on the court. Country Day just made shots.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Country Day’s Maxine Moore (44) battles Arbor Prep’s Lasha Petree for a loose ball during the Class B Final. (Middle) Yellowjackets Kaela Webb (left) and Destiny Pitts celebrate the program’s latest title with coach Frank Orlando. 

Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

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.