North Central Nearing Regional Opportunity

By John Vrancic
Special for

March 8, 2019

POWERS – A group of female athletes at North Central High School hopes to accomplish something no other girls basketball team at its school has done since 1980.

Bring home a Regional championship trophy.

The Jets (16-6) took the first step toward their goal Monday night in a 65-25 victory over Republic-Michigamme (3-16) in a Division 4 District opener on their home floor.

"We just wanted to set the tone for the rest of the District," said sophomore Andie Arsenault, who averages nearly 13 points a game. "We wanted to gain some confidence. This is a very important step."

The Jets followed with a 54-42 triumph at Felch North Dickinson (9-12) Wednesday night, earning the right to host Stephenson (10-9) in tonight’s championship game.

"I was pretty excited to be playing our first District game at home," said senior Jadie Linder, who averages slightly more than 9.5 ppg. "I never played against (Republic-Michigamme) before. It was just business as usual. We weren't looking past anyone. We got off to a good start, which helped me relax. I'm usually super nervous at first."

North Central is shooting for its first District title in six years.

A victory tonight would send the Jets to next week's Regional tournament at Kingsford, knowing there's a strong possibility if they win that round that they could face top-ranked St. Ignace (22-0) in a Quarterfinal game at Marquette.

"Our goal is to win the Regional and get a shot at St. Ignace," said senior Chloe Wells, who averages 12.5 ppg. "It was real important for us to win the first District game. I think it shows other teams we mean business. Our press is pretty intense. It can get other teams frustrated and intimidated. We've all become more comfortable with our shot, and balanced scoring has helped. Everybody has shared in the success."

Junior Bree Arsenault, who averages nearly 11 points, said she enjoys the camaraderie she shares with her teammates.

"We're all real close," she added. "It's easy to play well when you're surrounded by people you get along with. I think we're in a good mold. We're all ready to score and play defense. I think this just shows we're capable of getting things done. It's real exciting to go through this with people who are your best friends."

Coach Lee Vincent likes the way the Jets play defense and share the ball.

"Our team defense and being unselfish with the ball has been key," he said. "If someone's open, they're going to get the ball. Alex Neville has been playing tough, and Hailey Pavlat is coming on. We talk to the girls about taking one game at a time. Their attitude has been great. They all can score. Different girls have taken their turn being the leading scorer."

North Central, like other teams, has lost practice time due to the weather.

"I know all the schools are affected by it," said Vincent. "You get on a roll, then you lose a week. Kids tend to lay around when they're not in school. When they're in school, they're together going to class and talking about the game."

Among the team's highlights this winter was a 45-37 triumph at neighboring Bark River-Harris on Jan. 28.

The Jets also have learned some lessons along the way.

"When we beat them (BR-H) it really got us pumped up," said Wells. "After our loss at Carney-Nadeau (50-46 on Feb. 9) we learned we just have to play better defense and become more confident in our shot."

The Jets are well aware other factors also can come into play.

"We definitely have to stay out of foul trouble and stay healthy," said Vincent. "We want to peak at the right time."

PHOTOS: (top) Powers North Central’s Delaney Smith, left, shuts down a drive against Republic-Michigamme on Monday. (Middle) Jadie Linder puts up a jumper during the District win. (Photos courtesy of the Escanaba Daily Press.)

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.