McQueen Home Ruling Basketball Court

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

January 2, 2020

Since she first stepped onto the hardwood more than a decade ago, Aaliyah McQueen has felt at home on the basketball court. 

The sport has helped get her through the toughest time in her life, develop some of her greatest friendships, and opened the door to a bright future.  

So, while the Flint Carman-Ainsworth senior juggles the excitement of starting her college career at University of Illinois this coming fall, and the nerves that come along with leaving her geographic home – the presence of basketball helps keep her calm. 

“I think it didn’t hit me until a couple days after my signing, that this will be the last time coming to my high school, having practice with my teammates and seeing familiar faces every day,” McQueen said. “I won’t really be home with my family – I'll be a long way from home – and basically I’ll be on my own. But that’s why Illinois was the perfect fit for me. Not only (Illini assistant coach and Flint native Tianna Kirkland), but just the people around there. The weather is colder, too, so it’s kind of similar. But I feel like I’m going to be OK as long as I’m playing basketball. It keeps me mentally sane.” 

It was basketball that helped McQueen deal with tragedy at a young age. After the death of her father in 2007, McQueen’s mother signed her up for basketball to help her focus on something positive. 

“When my father died, there wasn’t really anything for me to do,” McQueen said. “It’s a pretty dangerous city around where I’m from, and my mom didn’t want me to follow in any bad footsteps because I was grieving. I was already talented a little bit. I was kind of better than some of the kids and I was like, ‘Maybe this might be something.’” 

It clearly was, and by middle school, McQueen made the jump to AAU, playing for multiple teams and traveling the country to put her skills on display against strong competition and in front of myriad college coaches. She said her first contact with a college coach came during sixth grade. 

“At the time I was younger, so I was like, ‘Wow,’” McQueen said. “I was in shock. I was really happy. It was like, ‘Maybe I am good.’ I never really was like cocky or anything about myself, but I had never really thought I was that good. Once you see the results, that tells you you’re doing something right, and at that time I thought that I needed to keep doing what I’m doing.” 

McQueen’s high school career actually started at Goodrich, where she transferred to in eighth grade. She came back to Flint after her freshman year, however, as it felt more like home. 

“Me coming to Carman, I think, might have been a good thing for me in opening up a lot more and becoming more talkative and outspoken,” she said. “I didn’t really talk much at Goodrich. I was more of ‘only speak when spoken to.’ Just being around the people I grew up with, that kind of opened me up as a person.” 

Finding the right home was important when selecting a college, so when McQueen chose Illinois over 20 other offers, Kirkland was a major reason why. The former Ferris State two-sport star has been at Illinois for eight years, but her connections to the state of Michigan run deep. Not only is she a Flint native, but she also coached at Eastern Michigan and the University of Michigan before making the move to Illinois. 

“She’s from here, and she knows how it is here,” said McQueen, who added that talking with Kirkland is like getting a Flint history lesson. “I really like that, and we connected right away.” 

While McQueen plays guard at times for the Cavs, she’s used all over the court in coach Lance Belill’s system – which both player and coach agree will make her a better collegiate player. 

“She’s going to be a physical guard for them, just because she’s been guarding bigger players at the high school level,” Belill said. “She’s going to be a guard who can score, rebound, but most importantly get the other girls open looks.” 

While Belill said McQueen’s versatility is her greatest strength at the high school level, it’s her court vision and passing that he said would shine in college. 

“I think that’s even going to be magnified at the next level,” he said. “A lot of times, she sees things that the other girls don’t.” 

Before she heads to Illinois, McQueen still has some work to do at home, as she and her Carman-Ainsworth teammates have the makings of a special season ahead of them.  

The Cavaliers are 6-0 and ranked No. 4 in Division 1 in the Michigan Power Ratings index. They have six seniors, including two entering their fourth years with the program – Chenelle King and Jessiana Aaron. Through their first six games, the Cavs have had four players lead the team in scoring, including McQueen with 21 in their most recent win Dec. 27 against her former school. 

Carman-Ainsworth’s last two seasons both ended in the Regional round at the hands of eventual Class A/Division 1 Finals champion Saginaw Heritage. There’s a feeling within the program that this year could end differently – but either way, McQueen plans to enjoy her final year at home. 

“There are a lot of us that pretty much grew up together, the seniors,” McQueen said. “We’re all talented, and we’re all good basketball players. We’re all really focused for states, but we have to come together and stay united as one, and just have fun our senior year.” 

Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Flint Carman-Ainsworth’s Aaliyah McQueen, left, works to gather a loose ball this season during a win over Flint Kearsley. (Middle) McQueen brings the ball upcourt. (Top photo by Terry Lyons; middle photo courtesy of Aaliyah McQueen.)

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.