Marching On, Marshall Laces Up with Otsego

April 1, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The Marshall girls basketball team brought one of the largest, loudest and most supportive groups of fans to the Breslin Center during last month's two weekends of MHSAA Basketball Finals.

But as the Redhawks faithful cheered their local team to its first Class B title, Marshall had another community rooting for the best as well.

Otsego shared the court with Marshall the week before for a Regional Final, won by the Redhawks 57-37. And Marshall’s team and coaches shared in a recent fight by the Otsego athletic family, which is supporting parent Val Davis, who is suffering from a fatal brain disorder, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Davis has been known as one of her school's most passionate supporters through the careers of four children who have played on Bulldogs teams.

After the Regional Final, Otsego basketball player Liz Barwegen wrote the following to MHSAA Executive Director Jack Roberts:

“We have dedicated our season to one of our parents that has a brain disease. She is not doing very well. Doctors have told her she doesn’t have long. Our team began wearing bright neon green shoelaces because they were her favorite, and she likes seeing the bright color. The Marshall coach heard about this and so their team wore the bright green shoelaces also.

"That was not the only thing that the Marshall coach did that showed great sportsmanship. When there were about two minutes left in the game and Marshall had put their subs in, our coach also subbed in. However, Marshall had the ball and the time started ticking down. So the Marshall coach called a timeout just so we could get our subs in the game. I am not sure if their coach knew if the sub was Hailey (the girl with the sick mom), but Hailey was able to play the final minutes of the game for the last time in front of her mom.”

Hailey Davis was a senior this season. Barwegen, who so poignantly authored the letter, is only a sophomore.  

This season’s Girls Basketball Tournament was storied to say the least, with all four champions first-time winners after two played in MHSAA championship games also for the first time. Marshall had arguably the most exhilarating final week, downing No. 4 Grand Rapids Catholic Central by 11 in a Quarterfinal, then No. 2 Bay City John Glenn on Nikki Tucker’s two free throws with 1.4 seconds to play in the Semifinal. The No. 7 Redhawks completed their first title run with a 51-42 victory over No. 3 Grand Rapids South Christian, led by coach Sal Konkle, who played on the Marshall team that finished runner-up in 1981 in the program's first trip to an MHSAA Final.

“I hated losing that game,” Barwegen wrote after her team's loss that kicked off the Redhawks' championship week, “but surely hope Marshall can go on and win the rest of the way.”

Click to read a piece from the Kalamazoo Gazette that tells more of Val Davis’ story and fight.

PHOTO: Marshall and Otsego players line up together, showing off neon green shoelaces both teams wore in honor of Otsego mother and fan Val Davis during their Class B Regional Final. (Photo by Gary Shook.)

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.