King Rises Again to Reach Class A Final

March 18, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

EAST LANSING – Micaela Kelly was a big fan of the Detroit Martin Luther King football team in November when it won its first MHSAA championship since 2007.

Now she and her teammates are receiving that support in return as they pursue a first Class A title since 2006.

The Crusaders earned the opportunity for the first time since that championship season with a 56-48 Semifinal win over St. Johns on Friday at the Breslin Center.

King will next face Warren Cousino in the noon Final on Saturday seeking a sixth MHSAA championship – but first in nine seasons. 

“It’s my last year of high school and I’ll never get this chance again. And I want to go to college with something,” said Kelly, who will continue her career next season at DePaul University. “(The football players) talk to me all day. They said, ‘We’ve got one. You should get one too.’ I look up to them; they worked hard.” 

King (24-1) entered this postseason ranked No. 4 and always is in the conversation of the state’s elite. The Crusaders have made Quarterfinals four of the past five seasons and advanced to the Semifinals a year ago before falling to eventual Class A champion Bloomfield Hills Marian.

But they looked tough to beat Friday.

Kelly said because she’d never played St. Johns, she hoped her team would get off to a quick start – and she played a big part, making two 3-pointers as junior Tia Tedford drilled a third to give the Crusaders a quick 9-6 lead after their first three shots from the floor.

King ended up making half of its 3-pointers – nine total, and kept a 7 to 10-point lead most of the third and fourth quarters until St. Johns made a last run late to get as close as six during the final minute.

The Redwings had defeated three other top-10 teams during the tournament run and another twice during the regular season. 

“We’ve played a lot of different styles, but King was a little different in the fact they shot really well from the perimeter consistently,” St. Johns coach Mark Lasceski said. “And shots that normally went in for us the past three weeks went off the front of the rim, rattling out, those types of things. In a game like this against a top-10 team like that, they have to go down for you to have a chance to win.”

Kelly led King with 18 points, hitting 5 of 7 shots from the floor including a pair of 3-pointers. Junior guard Alicia Norman made all three of her 3-point attempts and finished with 14 points, and sophomore guard Erica Whitley-Jackson also made three 3-pointers and finished with 10 points.

“If you’re a 3-point shooting team, you’re always going to have those highs and those lows. We always expect that, and hopefully our defense would hold up until we started hitting again,” 33-year King coach William Winfield said. “We wanted to make sure they were taking good shots, and that was the difference. They played with poise, very sure of themselves.”

St. Johns – playing in its first Semifinal since 1997 – got offensive contributions from a number of players. Sophomore guard Maddie Maloney led with 12 points and six assists, but five others scored at least five points.

Junior forward Jamie Carroll and junior guard Erika Ballinger each added eight. Senior Brooke Mazzolini had seven points, six rebounds and six assists, and with forward Jessica Hafner was one of only two seniors on the team. 

“I felt we had a chance to win all game long,” said Lasceski, who completed his 20th season leading the program. “They hit shots, and we struggled at times.

“These kids … made this an outstanding season, for the St. Johns community, for the basketball program and for them. … Through this run, they grew together, as I would say, family. They’ve been one of the closest group of kids that I’ve coached.”

Click for the full box score.

The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Martin Luther King’s Alicia Norman drives past a St. Johns defender Friday. (Middle) St. Johns’ Jessica Hafner looks for an open teammate as Jasmine Flowers (55) and Micaela Kelly defend.

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.