Muskegon-Area Girls Hoops Builds Prestige

December 7, 2016

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Artrese Williams noticed something new at her basketball games last winter:

Big crowds.

Williams, now a senior leader and defensive stopper for the Muskegon Reeths-Puffer girls basketball team, was blown away by the student sections, noise and just overall increased interest in girls basketball last season as the evenly-matched trio of Reeths-Puffer, Muskegon High and Muskegon Mona Shores battled for supremacy in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green.

“I love it when there’s a big crowd and the students are getting crazy,” said Williams. “That’s all the motivation I need.”

The Meijer Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame Classic took notice of the growing buzz surrounding the girls games along the lakeshore – driven by a spike in talent, particularly at the area’s larger schools – and this year for the first time will feature a girls varsity opening game at its one-day, three-game event Dec. 28 at Reeths-Puffer High School.

Reeths-Puffer will tip off at 5:30 p.m. against perennial power Muskegon Oakridge in a showcase that has become a Muskegon-area tradition over Christmas break. The event is in its 15th year.

“Our committee has noticed much more interest in girls hoops, no question about it,” said Mack, a longtime boys and girls basketball coach at Mona Shores, who has served as the Hall of Fame Classic director since its inception in 2002. “They have earned the right to be part of this event.”

Mack expects an outstanding girls game leading into a clash of Top 10 boys teams in Grand Rapids Christian and Holland West Ottawa, followed by the traditional boys finale of Muskegon against East Kentwood.

Williams can’t wait to get the crowd going as a senior on her home floor, where she leads a veteran team that includes fellow seniors Elysia Mattos (guard) and 6-foot twin towers Brooke Larabee and Delaney Bolles.

As juniors, those four helped the Rockets knock off Muskegon and Miss Basketball runner-up Mardrekia Cook (now at Michigan State) during the regular season but came up just short in three tough losses to OK Green champion Mona Shores, including a season-ending 47-38 defeat in the Class A District title game. Reeths-Puffer finished the season 15-6. 

“It doesn’t seem like anyone is really talking about us this year, but we have experience and I think our conditioning has been a lot better, plus we have the motivation,” said Williams, a speedy, 5-4 guard whose older sister Camaryia Williams and cousin Kalisa Williams also were standout players for the Rockets and now play at Muskegon Community College.

Mona Shores is the league favorite again with the return of Miss Basketball candidate Jordan Walker and junior Alyza Winston, while Muskegon also boasts a deep, experienced team. The sleeper along the lakeshore could be the O-K Red’s Grand Haven, which is only four years removed from back-to-back Class A championships.

“There’s just a really special group of girls players in the Muskegon area right now,” said ninth-year Reeths-Puffer coach Brandon Barry. “I think it’s great that was recognized.”

Reeths-Puffer’s matchup with Oakridge, which boasts a stellar backcourt in senior sharpshooter Hannah Reinhold and sophomore point guard Sophia Wiard, has special meaning for the veteran coach. Barry has taught at Oakridge since 1989 and in July was inducted into the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame after his 25th year as the Oakridge baseball coach.

“I’ll cheer for them every other night,” Barry said of the Eagles, who have won 50 consecutive games in the West Michigan Conference under coach Terry DeJonge. “We have had some great games with them the past few years, and this should be another one.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Coach Brandon Barry and his Muskegon Reeths-Puffer girls basketball team get ready for introductions before an O-K Black conference game last year at Muskegon High School. (Middle) Artrese Williams (5) is one of four senior starters for the Muskegon Reeths-Puffer girls basketball team, which will play Muskegon Oakridge on Dec. 28 in the opening game of the 15th annual Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame Classic at Reeths-Puffer. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)

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.