McCullen Reaches 500-Win Milestone Leading DeWitt's Girls 'Basketball Family'

February 17, 2023

Bill McCullen is in the midst of his 27th season coaching at DeWitt, taking the helm of a girls basketball program in 1996 that had struggled with a 28-37 record (14-22 in league play) over its three previous seasons. 

Mid-MichiganReaching 500 wins is an incredible achievement, as only 14 other girls basketball coaches have done so in the state of Michigan. He led the Panthers to that 500th win Thursday against East Lansing, and after the 61-40 victory he sits sixth among active coaches on the MHSAA girls basketball coaching wins list.

The Panthers currently sit 17-2. McCullen has posted a 242-38 league record (.864 winning percentage) with 19 league championships as DeWitt eyes a rematch with Capital Area Activities Conference Blue leader Holt coming up Tuesday. The Panthers also have won nine District and five Regional championships and reached the MHSAA Semifinals four times and finished Class A runner-up in 2014-15.

Before COVID-19, he had averaged 19 wins per season (to just 3.96 losses) in a sport that had a 20-game regular season before this winter. McCullen reached his 100th win in just five seasons, averaging an incredible 20 wins over that early span. DeWitt has posted 10 20-win seasons in the program’s history; McCullen is responsible for nine of them.

The expectations of McCullen’s student-athletes are just as high in the classroom. During his first 26 seasons, the Panthers have averaged a team GPA of 3.52, earning the state’s top honor three times. McCullen has seen 28 of his student-athletes earn academic all-state recognition.

McCullen has dedicated 30 years as an educator, teaching social studies classes at DeWitt High School for the last 29. Above all the wins, McCullen is an exemplary role model for coaches, players, and parents. His behavior on the sidelines and how he talks to officials and players exemplifies what is expected of coaches.

He has taken teaching and coaching beyond the classroom and hardwood and has created a “basketball family” within his program. McCullen is quick to give credit to his assistant coaches (Sam Dalman, Annie Jenkins, and Marcy Uyl) and longtime friend Scott Palmer, who served as his varsity assistant for two years and JV head coach for another 24. The support of his wife (Denise) and two grown sons (Carter and Jerod) are paramount to McCullen’s success and passion for teaching and coaching. 

Perhaps his greatest influence was Jim Lutzke. Then DeWitt’s director of human resources and athletic director, Lutzke hired McCullen in 1994 as a teacher and to coach tennis. Lutzke mentored McCullen for five years before succumbing to cancer in 1999. That relationship has had a profound and lasting impact on McCullen as a husband, father, teacher, and coach.

PHOTO DeWitt girls basketball coach Bill McCullen talks things over with Gabbie Brya during a game. (Photo by TCP Photography.) 

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.