Lenawee Christian's Title Time Arrives

March 17, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

GRAND RAPIDS – As daughter of the coach and sister of the star, sophomore Dani Salenbien was in unique position to forecast the success of this season’s Adrian Lenawee Christian girls basketball team.

She knew one thing for sure.

“I know we can do anything when we play together,” Salenbien said. “We’re fighters and we haven’t stopped fighting this whole season, so I’m proud of every single one of them.”

Two days after freshman sister Bree sank a last-second overtime shot to send their team to the championship game, Lenawee Christian won it. The Cougars caught fire during Saturday’s second half to claim their first MHSAA girls basketball title with a 57-36 win over Chassell at Van Noord Arena.

Lenawee Christian previously had finished Class D runner-up in 2010 and was making its first trip to Finals weekend since that title game run. The Cougars capped a season that saw them finish 26-1, with their only loss by one point to Class A Monroe.

They had only one senior on the roster, and 51 of their points Saturday were scored by Bree Salenbien or sophomores.

“Three or four weeks ago, we started hitting our stride a bit,” said Lenawee Christian coach Jamie Salenbien, who’s also Bree and Dani’s father. “And I told Coach, ‘Wow, something good is happening.’ They’re jelling well, the chemistry’s good, they’re sacrificing for each other, and to boot we were getting a lot of progress as far as the skill level goes – shooting, ball handling and passing. It all got crisper.

“And we peaked at the right time, so we’re just really thankful for that.”

Leading by a point at the break Saturday, Lenawee Christian went on a 19-7 run over the final 7½ minutes of the third quarter to build a 13-point lead. The Cougars then held Chassell to only four points – on 20 percent shooting – during the fourth quarter.

Bree Salenbien, the team’s leading scorer this winter at more than 21 points per game, left the floor briefly during the first half after twisting an ankle. The 6-foot-2 guard finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds – and despite hitting only 7 of 21 shots from the floor. She disrupted Chassell’s defense just by being out there and opening up space for teammates.

Sophomore Libby Miller added 11 points, while Dani Salenbien and sophomore Caitlin Anderson both scored 10. Salenbien had six assists and five steals, and Anderson grabbed seven rebounds.

“We kinda let her control a little bit of the second half. I felt like we scrambled a little bit, over-helping and not getting back where we needed to be – we had too much help and not enough on-the-ball defense,” Chassell coach Brandi Hainault said.

“I felt we had momentum from the first half into the second half. They hit some big shots, and we weren’t hitting ours, and eventually you dig yourself a hole.”

Senior center Sydney Danison led Chassell (26-2) with 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots, showing sharp post moves especially early on. Senior guard Milly Allen, also a Semifinal star Thursday, added 10 points.

Chassell was making its first MHSAA championship game appearance in girls basketball and first in either girls or boys since 1958.

“They’ve done something no other Chassell team had done,” Hainault said. “They’re a team that deserves to be here, and I couldn’t be prouder of what they’ve done.

“The first time being here, it’s a great thing. I couldn’t ask for anything more, except maybe the win. It’s a hard thing – these girls played with a lot of heart, played with a lot of hustle and did the right things. A lot of our mistakes just cost us the game today.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Lenawee Christian celebrates its first MHSAA girls basketball championship after claiming Saturday's Class D Final. (Middle) Chassell’s Sydney Danison and Lenawee Christian’s Brooke Brinning battle for possession.

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.