With Lead Scorer Sidelined, West Catholic Finds Way to Saturday
By Perry A. Farrell
Special for MHSAA.com
March 18, 2022
EAST LANSING – Abbey Kimball, Michigan State University recruit and Grand Rapids West Catholic star, was right at home Friday during her team’s Division 2 Semifinal against Detroit Country Day – until a collision while trying for a steal with 4 minutes, 37 seconds left in the first half sent her to the locker room after silencing the Breslin Center crowd.
The outcome was well in hand as the Falcons (25-1) were up nearly 20 points on the way to advancing to the Final with a 62-42 victory, but Kimball being at full strength for Saturday’s championship game suddenly was in doubt.
Kimball was the only senior starter on the floor for either side. Her day was done with six points. She sat on the bench in the second half with an ice pack over her blackened right eye.
“Yes, I will be ready to go tomorrow,” Kimball said after. The Falcons will play in their first Final at 6:15 p.m. Saturday since finishing runner-up in Class B in 1995.
She had future MSU teammates in the arena cheering her on.
“They supported me throughout my high school and AAU career,’’ added Kimball. “It was great to be able to play at my future home. COVID affected us the last two years. We just kept working with the goal of getting a championship.’’
Four Falcons scored in double figures with Anna Ignatoski dropping in 15 points, Reese Polega 13, Emma Tuttle 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, and Cadence Dykstra scoring 10.
“You hate to see your best player go down. Your heart goes in your throat,” West Catholic coach Jill VanderEnde said. “We had our athletic trainer (Ryan Vogel) take her through the proper procedures. I thought our other players stepped up.’’
West Catholic’s defense forced 17 turnovers in the first half and shot 51.6 percent from the field in building a 45-25 lead. For the game, Country Day was stifled shooting 28.6 percent from the field while totaling 24 turnovers.
The Falcons length and athleticism caused problems for the young Yellowjackets at both ends.
“We had a hard time getting into any rhythm,’’ said Country Day coach Jerica Williams. “You can credit their defense for that. We had a lot of turnovers. If we had been able to protect the ball … . They are a very good team. We hope they win it all.‘’
West Catholic shot 50 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point land during the first quarter and took a commanding 21-5 lead as the Yellowjackets had more turnovers (seven) than points.
The Falcons scored the first five points of the second quarter to assume a 26-5 lead. Standout sub Ignatoski (12) and Polega (11) combined for 23 points during the first half.
Kimball took a wicked shot trying to get a steal from Aysia Yokely, who led the Yellowjackets with 21 points.
Sophomore Jaidyn Elam added 17 points for Country Day (14-8), which was appearing in the Division 2 Semifinals for the second straight season.
PHOTOS (Top) West Catholic’s Ellie Bies (11) reaches to grab a loose ball above a pair of Country Day players during her team's Semifinal win Friday. (Middle) The Yellowjackets' Aysia Yokely (21) looks for an open teammate, with Abbey Kimball defending. (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 MHSAA.com
April 13, 2023
Delonda Little was already a trailblazer to many before this year’s MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals.
But 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 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 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.