P-W Earns Shot to Add to Title Collection

March 16, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Pewamo-Westphalia is enjoying a championship-caliber school year.

And now the Pirates girls basketball team wants its piece of MHSAA title success.

P-W can claim its third Finals title of 2016-17 on Saturday, thanks to the hoops team's 64-51 win over Maple City Glen Lake in Thursday’s second Class C Semifinal.

The Pirates girls can join the football and boys cross country teams as champions when they take on Detroit Edison Public School Academy in the 4 p.m. championship game. The Semifinal was P-W’s first since 2002, and the title game appearance will be the program’s first since finishing Class C runners-up in 1983 and 1984 – making it seem like all of this recent winning might be contagious.

“I think it’s just the community. Our community is so supportive, as you can see at any game and any championships – our community is there,” said P-W senior guard Brenna Wirth, herself a main cog on the school’s girls track & field Division 3 title winner in 2015. “I think we feed off that, and it keeps us going.

“I’ve been playing basketball for several years now, longer than I’ve been running, and basketball is really important to me and the community.”

How much it means to Wirth and her teammates came out especially over Thursday’s final 19 minutes.

Glen Lake (23-4) entered the regular season unranked but had already eliminated No. 2 Traverse City St. Francis and No. 7 St. Ignace before taking the floor against the No. 6 Pirates. The Lakers didn’t waste time going after another giant, taking as much as a nine-point lead into the final three minutes of the first half.

“Throughout the season, we tend to say the same thing over and over – you never win the game in the first four minutes,” P-W coach Steve Eklund said. “They were outhustling us; I’d say for the first 8 to 10 minutes they were outhustling us. Sometimes you have to adjust to your opponent. I think it took us a little time tonight to settle into the environment.”

“Obviously we had to fight back every little run they had,” junior forward Emily Spitzley added. “We just had in our minds to keep fighting. It’s just about confidence.”

If the all-state second-teamer was lacking any, she found it as the comeback began.

Spitzley scored 20 of her game-high 24 points and grabbed eight of her 12 rebounds – and also blocked three shots – as the Pirates forced a 22-point swing.

P-W (24-2) closed the second quarter on an 8-0 run to get within 25-24 of Glen Lake by halftime. The Pirates then opened the third quarter on a 7-0 run to take a six-point lead.

Glen Lake got the advantage back twice with just under four minutes left in the third quarter, and after the Pirates rebuilt an eight-point lead got the deficit down to one again with 6:33 to play. But another P-W 8-0 run over the next three minutes finally put the game out of reach.

“We’ve had a lot of games where we had slow starts, but we’ve worked hard on coming out (strong) in the third quarter,” Glen Lake coach Jason Bradford said. “We just came out kinda slow on our heels and got away from what we usually do – pushing the ball, kicking it out. We were spinning our heels a little bit, and we got a little shell-shocked when the score started going the other way.”

Wirth added 13 points, and junior forward Kate Hengesbach added nine points, 12 rebounds and six steals off the bench in 20 minutes of play.

Junior guard Allie Bonzelet led three Lakers scoring in double figures with 14 points, and junior forward Jennifer LaCross had 13 and seven rebounds. Senior guard Kelly Bunek added 11 points and senior forward Sarah Carney finished her career grabbing nine rebounds.

P-W fans had about a 30-minute drive to fill their side of the Breslin stands Thursday, but Glen Lake had nearly as many fans – including three spectator bus loads – make a nearly four-hour trek.

“It’s just great to be able to put our name out there and show people all the hard work we’ve been putting in,” Carney said. “To just see the community come out and support us … it’s very rewarding to see the support we have.”

Click for the full box score.

The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System. 

PHOTOS: (Top) P-W’s Emily Spitzley drives to the basket during Thursday’s Class C Semifinal win. (Middle) Glen Lake’s Savannah Peplinski (24) works to get past the Pirates’ Ellie Droste.

Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

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.