Marian Encores with Repeat Performance

March 21, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – There’s pressure, and then there’s the expectation Bloomfield Hills Marian had for this season. 

Nothing less than another Class A championship would suffice for a team returning four starters from last year’s title run. 

It just so happens the Mustangs are especially good under pressure – and exceptional at the Breslin Center.

Top-ranked Marian ran its Breslin Finals winning streak to four and championship streak to two Saturday with a 51-37 win over No. 4 DeWitt. 

“I feel like it’s the big stadium. I know there’s a lot of pressure to perform well, so I want to go out there and try my hardest,” said Marian sophomore guard Samantha Thomas, who has averaged 14.2 points in four Finals weekend games over the last two seasons. “I try to do that every game, but I guess I just do it more at Breslin.

“Sam’s a real people pleaser. She wants everyone to be happy,” Marian coach Mary Cicerone added, “and she knows we were counting on her big-time today.” 

Total, the Mustangs have now won six girls basketball championships – tying with two other schools for second-most in MHSAA history. Their seven appearances in MHSAA Finals are tied for fifth-most among girls basketball programs.

They looked more than comfortable after the opening tip this time. Marian (25-1) scored the first 10 points of the game and held DeWitt without a point until the final 28 seconds of the first quarter. 

But it wouldn’t be that easy the rest of the afternoon.

The Panthers (25-2), playing in their first MHSAA Final since 1977 and only a 10-minute drive from home, were led by five seniors who all had spent at least three seasons on varsity. They wouldn’t fold quickly.

In fact, the Panthers took a 17-16 lead on junior Lilly George’s basket with 1:31 to go in the first half. 

Twice more Marian built a lead. Twice more the Panthers fought back, taking their final lead at 32-31 with 6:54 to play. But they couldn’t withstand a final rush by the Mustangs and the Thomas sisters in particular.

“It just says that we never want to give up,” DeWitt senior guard Claudia Reid said. “Even though it was a hard loss for us, it was a great journey we went on. We went on it together, and we’ll always remember this.” 

Marian outscored DeWitt 20-5 the rest of the way. Samantha Thomas had four of those points and junior sister Bailey scored nine despite both playing with four fouls. The Panthers made only one of 10 shots during those final seven minutes.

“I got my fouls pretty early, so I was sitting on the bench for a long time and it’s hard to watch knowing you’re in foul trouble and can’t play,” Bailey Thomas said. “But once I got to go back out there I was going to give it all I’ve got because I didn’t want to be back on the bench.” 

Samantha Thomas finished with 17 points and five steals, while Bailey had 12 points, although both played only 18 minutes. Senior guard Kara Holinski picked up some of the scoring load with 10 points, and senior forward Brittany Gray had seven points and eight rebounds. 

Reid had 12 points and four assists for DeWitt, and George added 10 points and 10 rebounds. Junior forward Summer Ward hit a pair of 3-pointers off the bench for the second straight day and finished with 11 points and six rebounds.

Gray, Holinski and senior guard Jaeda Robinson all played on the Marian varsity as freshmen and were part of the program’s only losing season since 1986. But they finished that winter with a District title and went a combined 68-7 over the last three. 

“They came every day to practice hard. They worked. Thanksgiving Day, ‘Can we come in and have practice? And I said I’ve gotta cook, so we came in early,” Cicerone said. “When we look at their picture on our gym wall, I’m going to tell everybody that if you want to get back there, you’ve gotta work. These kids were the epitome of what hard work and dedication are about, and that’s their legacy.”

Click for the full box score and video from the postgame press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Bloomfield Hills Marian’s Brittany Gray blocks a shot during Saturday’s Class A Final at the Breslin Center. (Middle) Samantha Thomas looks for open teammates while DeWitt’s Abby Nakfoor (42) and Lilly George (44) 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.