Manchester Earns First Final Berth

March 14, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – This season isn’t the first that Manchester has looked like an MHSAA championship contender. 

Big things were expected a year ago as well – but the Lady Dutch panicked in a Regional Final against Riverview Gabriel Richard and saw their season end that day. 

Manchester met Gabriel Richard again in Thursday’s opening Class C Semifinal at the Breslin Center. But this time, and despite an early deficit, there was no panic. Instead, a number of players worked to overcome the early disadvantage as they collectively resolved to earn their first berth in an MHSAA Final. 

The No. 3-ranked Dutch held off Gabriel Richard 53-46 and will play for their first MHSAA championship against Saginaw Nouvel at 4 p.m. Saturday. 

“With them ending our season last year, and one person showed up, we knew this game we all needed to show up,” Manchester sophomore guard Jesse Manders said. “Even if it’s not scoring, it’s playing defense. … We didn’t start out great, but we overcame that and played a good game all-around.” 

That “one person,” senior forward McKenna Erkfritz, had scored 23 of her team’s points in that 39-33 loss to Gabriel Richard last season. She had 19 points, 10 rebounds and three steals Thursday, but got plenty of help with Manders scoring 16 points and senior Taylor Manders adding 11. 

Total, Manchester (26-1) outrebounded Gabriel Richard 38-30 and forced a share of 23 Pioneers turnovers. 

“They know they can get it done. We always knew the potential this group could grow into, and I knew from this summer that this is where we wanted to be,” Manchester coach Cori Kastel said. 

“Our District Final (57-42 over Ypsilanti Arbor Prep) was a very tough game and probably some of the best defense we’ve seen all season. But when we were able to handle that, it gave us a confidence boost. Our Regional (58-51 over Adrian Madison) was the first time in a long time we were playing from behind, and we’re not used to that. That’s what broke us last year. But this year we have more veteran players … and they weren't going to let that happen again.”

Gabriel Richard – also seeking its first championship game berth – jumped out to an eight-point lead just five minutes into the game, and still led by a basket two minutes into the second quarter before Taylor Manders drilled a 3-pointer to give Manchester a 10-9 lead. 

The Pioneers (16-8) briefly regained the advantage, 27-25, with 3:44 left in the third quarter. But 10 of those turnovers came during the final 12 minutes, thanks in part to Manchester’s stingy pressure. 

“I guess the purpose of the press is to make teams you’re pressing make mental mistakes, and that’s what we did. We over-thought it, and the turnovers affected the way we played and took us out of our game a little bit,” Gabriel Richard senior guard Ashley Henderson said. 

“I think we had a lot of turnovers too because a lot of girls had never played in this big of a game before. They were nervous, and I think that adds onto it too.”

Henderson finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and three steals. 

As well as earning its first championship game berth, Manchester is playing during the season’s final week for the first time. 

“They have confidence in themselves, their teammates and our coaching staff. Not just one person is going to lead us to victory,” Kastel said. “We had an off shooting night, and we persevered. We buckled down, our defense held us in the game, and now we’re playing for a championship.

We've played here once. Now it’s not new. The newness has worn off. We know we belong here."

Click for full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Manchester guard Taylor Manders brings the ball upcourt on a fastbreak during Thursday's Semifinal win. (Middle) Gabriel Richard sophomore Casey Lyons works to get around Manders on the way to the basket. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photo.)

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.