Next Win Will be 500th for Ida's Leonard

November 30, 2018

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

IDA – There are ups and downs in everyone’s coaching career. Unless you are Tim Leonard.

Leonard starts his 28th season as head coach of the Ida High School girls basketball team Tuesday. With a win at home against Monroe Jefferson, Leonard would join the exclusive 500-win club.

The Bluestreaks varsity won at least 12 games every one of his first 27 seasons at Ida. His record is a shiny 499-112.

“That’s a credit to our kids and coaching staff,” said Leonard. “Through all of the years, all of our kids have worked hard for everything. They’ve come to practice every day, and they have played hard.”

Leonard is a retired Michigan State Police detective who started coaching at Ida, his alma mater, in 1986 when he was hired as the boys freshman basketball coach. He took over the Ida junior varsity boys the following season and coached them for 15. 

In the meantime, he coached Ida’s 8th-grade girls team in 1989 and 1990 and got the Ida girls varsity job in 1991. Ida went 22-2 that season, winning a Class C District crown and the Lenawee County Athletic Association championship.

It was a sign of things to come for Leonard and Ida.

In the years since, his accomplishments have been remarkable:

  • 16 LCAA titles
  • 10 District championships
  • 2 Associated Press Coach of the Year awards

Leonard said basketball was a sport he always had loved. He’s grateful he was able to coach while working for the state police.

“I think a lot of people get into law enforcement for some of the same reasons they get into coaching or educating kids,” Leonard said. “It’s because of a desire to work with young people, to guide them, to help them along the way.”

As a detective, Leonard would often deal with cases in which children were not always in the most positive light. Coaching, he says, helped counter that.

“Coaching definitely allowed that balance for me,” he said. “In law enforcement, you are often dealing with the negative side. Coaching allows you to work with kids that are doing positive things.”

Ida has done a lot of positive things over Leonard’s tenure. He’s become the winningest girls basketball coach in Monroe County history. His 1999 Bluestreaks hold the school record for wins with 23. The 2016-17 team was his latest to win 20 games when it went 20-3. That was the 11th time in his career that Ida won at least 20 games.

“I’m pretty proud of the fact that in our down years, we still were able to win 12 or 14 games,” he said. “The girls just always seem to buy into what we are teaching them.”

Leonard hasn’t been afraid to change with the times. In his early coaching days, his teams were known for a fast, get-up-and-down-the-floor pace with full-court, man-to-man defense. As different athletes cycled through the Ida program, Leonard was able to adapt to fit the strengths of his roster.

“To be successful, one of the things you have to be willing to do is change,” he said. “You have to figure out what suits the kids the best. We’ve been pretty flexible throughout the years.”

In the last few years, Ida’s transitioned from the full-court press to a 2-2-1 zone press. It’s been a subtle change, but the success has continued. Ida is the reigning LCAA champion and has won three consecutive District crowns. Ida will play in Division 2 this season.

This winter, Ida returns just one starter in Taylor Wegener, but has experienced players coming back along with athletic newcomers. Opponents aren’t expecting anything easy when they take on Ida.

“This year is going to be interesting,” Leonard said. “We are still learning, still adjusting. We’re still getting our legs under us. It might take a little while, but I think it will come together.”

After Leonard retired from the state police, he became Ida’s athletic director, a position he still holds. He’s also turned basketball into family – his daughter Anne, who was a 1,000-point scorer at Ida, and son Chris are assistant coaches.

While the victories have piled up, Leonard said it’s never been about that.

“It’s certainly not about the wins and losses,” he said. “It’s definitely to make a difference in young people’s lives, to mentor and help the kids mature. That’s what it has always been about.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTO: Ida girls basketball coach Tim Leonard instructs one of his players. (Photo by Tom Hawley.)

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.