Kent City Finds Shooting Touch to Reach 1st Final

By Perry A. Farrell
Special for

April 7, 2021

EAST LANSING – Kent City has overcome every obstacle this season, and Friday the undefeated Eagles will play Grass Lake for the Division 3 girls basketball championship after defeating Calumet 59-53 in a Semifinal on Wednesday at the Breslin Center.

Grass Lake (19-1) advanced to Friday’s championship game when Hemlock opted out of the tournament Wednesday morning. Both Kent City and Grass Lake will be playing in a Final for the first time.

The Eagles (21-0) opened up an 11-point lead to start the fourth quarter Wednesday and held on despite the Copper Kings getting to within 54-50.

Kent City had a balanced offensive attack with Jenna Harrison scoring 15 points, Madelyn Geers 14, Kenzie Bowers 13, and sister Lexie Bowers 10.

“We just had to take a deep breath and relax,’’ said Harrison. “We knew eventually the shots would start falling.’’

Elli Djerf led the Copper Kings (20-1) with 22 points.

“She kept us in the game; she played her heart out,’’ said Calumet coach Matt Laho. “We needed to have a couple more players go with her, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

“We had some defensive breakdowns in the third quarter, some bad rotations. It’s easy to make shots when you’re wide open.’’

Kent City pressured Calumet from the start as both teams struggled offensively in the first quarter. Both teams were under 25-percent shooting over those first eight minutes as the teams managed just 14 points for a 7-7 tie.

2021 D3 Girls Basketball Semifinal - Kent CityGeers, who scored four points in the first quarter, picked up her second foul with 9.8 seconds left in the period. Calumet then went on an 8-3 run to start the second quarter, using a triple from Djerf to take a 15-10 lead and force Kent City coach Scott Carlson to call a timeout.

Consecutive 3-pointers from Lexie Bowers got the Eagles back to within two of the lead, 17-15, as the offenses heated up.

A 10-0 run including consecutive threes from Bowers gave the Eagles a 24-19 advantage. But Djerf scored the last three points of the quarter to get the Copper Kings to within 24-22 at halftime.

“We knew eventually we’d make shots,’’ said Carlson.

Strom and Djerf scored the first six points of the third quarter to give Calumet a 28-24 lead, but Kent City’s offense, led by Geers, responded with a 20-9 run to take a 44-37 lead on a triple and floater by Kenzie Bowers.

Harrison finished the frantic quarter with a triple to give Kent City a 49-41 lead heading into the final eight minutes.

When Geers scored to start the fourth quarter, the Eagles had their largest lead of the game, 51-41.

Up 11, 52-41, Kent City went to its delay game, forcing the Copper Kings to foul.

“We have enough ball-handlers to run clock for five minutes.’’ said Carlson. “They were tired, and playing defense that long wears you out.’’

Lexie Bowers led Kent City with 10 points while Marybeth Halonen had seven for the Copper Kings.

“We’re living the dream right now on the big stage,” Carlson said. “I think it’s a huge advantage for us having played today (while Grass Lake didn’t).’’

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Kent City's Jenna Harrison (4) makes her way around a Calumet defender Wednesday at Breslin Center. (Middle) Madelyn Geers (24) defends as Calumet's Jana Loukus looks for an opening. (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

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.