Next Coach, Same Success as Gobles Drives On

By Pam Shebest
Special for

March 9, 2021

GOBLES — One coach retired and one coach was hired, but both have one reason in common: family.

Southwest CorridorAfter 18 years leading the Gobles girls basketball team, John Curtis hung up his whistle.

“My two boys are the biggest reason,” Curtis said of Kellen, 13, and Gibson, 11.

“I just wanted to spend more time with them. Instead of being in a gym coaching on Tuesday and Friday, I would rather be with them studying or just having some Friday night fun.”

Greg Barber took over the position after coaching the junior varsity girls for five years.

That gives him more time to spend with his daughter, Amanda, a junior in her third year on varsity.

His other daughter, Erica, is an eighth grader who also plays basketball.

“I brought my daughters up through the youth program, so I was involved in that when they were in the third grade on up,” Barber said. “I just like coaching.”

One goal for the 8-3 Tigers is continued success in the MHSAA postseason which begins March 22 with District play.

Last year, Gobles won their District and then lost a 42-41 heartbreaker to Schoolcraft in a Division 3 Regional Semifinal. (Soon after, the season was put on hold and final rounds eventually canceled due to COVID-19.)

Gobles girls basketball 2Last year’s success was actually another factor that prompted Curtis’ retirement.

“I didn't want to be one of those coaches that retired when the program was struggling,” he said. 

“We have a great group of young ladies back and some solid young talent that helped in my decision as well.”

He said handing the coaching reins to Barber was easy.

“He has been in the program for a very long time as a youth and JV coach and has a great rapport with the team,” Curtis said.

“Having (current junior varsity) Coach V. (Marc VanHeukelum) around was a big help as well. He's been by my side forever, and they will keep the program at an elite level.”

Junior guard Amanda Barber, who joined the varsity midway through her freshman season, did not see much of a change when her father took over as coach.

“They have different coaching styles, I would say, but overall they both are good coaches so it’s not hard to be coached by one or the other,” she said.

Gobles girls basketball 3“Mr. Curtis is probably a little more in-your-face, and he’ll tell you how it is. My dad’s a little more laid back.”

The 5-foot-4 Barber leads the team in points, averaging 16 per game, and assists with three per game. Senior Karlee Henderson leads with seven rebounds per game.

“Amanda’s put hours and hours in the gym working on her game and her shooting,” he dad said. “Just countless hours of work.”

Other juniors on the team are Madi Brady, McKenzie Lisowski and Emily Baxter.

Other seniors are Keaghan Kelly, Abby Sandahl and Deven Thompson. The lone sophomore is Kaya Huizenga.

Moving Up, Staying Together

Kennadi Killeen made the jump from eighth grade hoops to varsity without playing a game of JV.

That took a bit of adjustment.

Gobles girls basketball 4“The game just got a lot faster and the girls got a lot bigger,” the freshman guard said. “You don’t have as much time between shots to think about everything, so you just have to know what you’re going to do before you do it.”

The pandemic restrictions limiting fans in the stands actually helped Killeen.

‘It did make the transition a lot easier because there weren’t a lot of people watching,” she said. “There weren’t as many people to be afraid of making a mistake in front of,” she added, laughing.

Killeen has worked her way into the starting lineup.

“She’s averaging five or six points a game and about five rebounds as a freshman, so she’s doing real well,” Barber said.

Deanna Wood is the other freshman on the team.

The coach said team unity is a key to their success.

“The junior class has played together since third grade so they’ve played the travel ball, some AAU stuff,” he said. “They’ve stuck together.

“It’s a very talented, athletic group. A couple young freshmen on the team this year have played a lot of basketball.”

Barber said working with the girls when he coached the JV team helped him with the move to varsity.

“I’ve coached them all through their JV years, so it was a pretty simple transition,” he said.

“They know what we do, they know what we want, they know what we like, so it went pretty smooth.”

Impressive numbers

In his 18 years as head coach, Curtis’ teams compiled a 304-107 record, won 10 conference, eight District and two Regional championships, making it to the Semifinals once.

Gobles girls basketball 5There are a few things Curtis will not miss.

“If I’m going to be 100 percent honest,” he said, “I won't miss dealing with all of the aspects off the court. The players and parents are changing just like society, which can make the job really tough.

“I've realized that as a coach you can't make everyone happy, and not too many people can see the entire picture these days.”

But since retiring, “the one thing I miss is those tough Friday night road games,” he said. “There is nothing better than going to an opponent's gym with a buzz in the gym and silencing their crowd with a win.

“I always took pride in how mentally tough my teams were, and that competitive feeling after those types of wins will be missed.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Gobles junior McKenzie Lisowski looks to break a trap against Allegan this season. (2) Gobles varsity girls basketball coach Greg Barber. (3) Tigers junior Amanda Barber makes her way through Coloma's defense. (4) Gobles freshman Kennadi Killeen. (5) Recently retired Gobles varsity coach John Curtis with sons Gibson and Kellen. (Action photos by Gala Rock. Head shots by Pam Shebest. Curtis photo courtesy of Curtis family.)

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.