Like Parents, Ayrault Twins 'Born to Play'

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

November 30, 2017

GROSSE POINTE WOODS – Kim Ayrault and her husband Andy were careful not to overly encourage their children to play sports, specifically basketball, the sport they played so well for so long.

But if their children did decide to play, they would teach them to play the right way and be there every step of the way.

Julia and Joe Ayrault, juniors at Grosse Pointe North, are the first set of twins born to Kim and Andy. Annabel and Adam are the second. Born nearly four years apart, all four play basketball and the younger pair play multiple sports.

The Ayraults are a family whose lives often revolve around practices and games, and driving to and from said events. It can be simultaneously rewarding and tiresome, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Kim recalls one of her first memories of Julia, a 4-year-old bouncing up and down the court.

“She went to the basket and scored,” Kim said. “Then she came back down with her ponytails flying and waving her hands up in the air, and I said to myself, no, no, no. I went up to her and said, you can’t do that. You can’t celebrate like that. She learned. She never did that again.

“She was competitive at that age. She was born ready to play.”

Julia Ayrault started bouncing a basketball just about the time she learned to walk. When her parents introduced her to the sport, she dove in head first and hasn’t looked back.

She tried soccer. That didn’t last. As a second sport she preferred baseball, but basketball was always first.

Julia and Joe, 16, both play varsity basketball and anticipate having more than just a good season. Their parents were also fine basketball players in the Pointes, Kim at North, Andy at Grosse Pointe South. The Ayraults’ other set of twins also play basketball, at Grosse Pointe Shores Our Lady Star of the Sea. Annabel and Adam are in the seventh grade and, yes, they’re good players, too. Annabel plays volleyball as well and Adam plays baseball. He was a member of the Grosse Pointe Shores/Woods Little League team that reach the World Series in Williamsport, Pa., this past summer.

After graduating from high school, the Ayraults began dating while playing basketball at Wayne State University. Andy was a junior, Kim (Reiter) a sophomore. Both had fine careers, both played four years and Andy went on to have a brief career professionally in Europe. The two are tall: Andy is 6-foot-7 and Kim is 6-foot, and, not surprisingly, their children are tall. Julia is 6-2, Joe 6-5.

It’s too early to tell, but Julia just might be the best. A three-year starter for longtime coach Gary Bennett, she has committed to Michigan State and is one of the state’s top players in the class of 2019. Bennett coached Kim in high school, and he first saw Julia play when she was in elementary school.

Andy has coached Julia, on and off but mostly on, since she started playing. Currently Andy is Bennett’s assistant coach. Andy also coached Julia at Star of the Sea and began coaching his two eldest children when they were in elementary school.

“From third to sixth grades I had her playing on the boys AAU team,” Andy said. “I used to put them on the same team because she was so good. In the seventh grade we switched out of AAU to the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization). Going on a weekend and playing four AAU games in one day wasn’t doing her any good. Playing two CYO games and practicing three days a week was better.

“Joe should have a breakout season. Julia had a breakout summer. She played more on the perimeter. She’s athletic enough to cover the post and take the ball to the rim.”

Andy has never stopped working with Julia, even if he wasn’t officially her coach. She developed a love for the game at an early age and Andy continued to teach, lending support as Julia’s game continued to improve.

“She blows our mind all the time,” Kim said. “We’ll say to each other later, did she really do that? When I watch, I see it from the stands and it’s a different look than what Andy sees. I’ll yell something at her during the game. Andy doesn’t like me doing that. I still do it.”

In addition to her playing basketball with the boys for three years, the athletically gifted Julia also played outfield and was a pitcher on a little league baseball team with her brother for two years. Also teaming up with Julia on that little league team was Evelyn Zacharias, one of Julia’s best friends and now a member of the North varsity basketball team as well.

One of Julia’s first memories of playing sports is a positive one.

“I remember when I was at Star of the Sea, we went a long way (in the playoffs),” she said. “It started to be a lot of fun. A lot of those girls who were on that team are at North with me. Evelyn and others. We have the memories.”

Kim and Andy have memories, too, and there are many more to come.

Right now, their lives are often discombobulated trying to give the four equal time. It’s a great goal in theory, but much more difficult to accomplish in reality.

A typical day will find Kim driving home after work as an elementary school teacher to pick up Julia from practice and get Adam to his game at Star of the Sea on time. One particular evening the MSU women’s team is playing the University of Detroit at Calihan Hall and Kim and Julia are going. Home by 10 p.m., there’s time for a snack before the good nights are said.

“People, many of our friends, tease us that we make them do this,” Kim said. “We’ve never done that.”

Kim keeps a schedule of all the comings and goings on a board hanging in the back of the house. She does it alone. She doesn’t trust anyone else to keep track.

Andy is in between jobs so his free time, if you can call it that, consists of completing Kim’s honey-do list.

“We were laughing the other day,” Kim said. “How did we do this before when (Andy) was working? I’m just trying to be patient.”

At the very least, 20 years of marriage will teach you that.

In addition to his work with Julia, Andy coaches Adam’s team at Star of the Sea, and he’s usually the one taking Julia and Joe on trips, whether it be sports-related or the occasional trip to check out a college campus.

Julia said with every member of the family involved in sports in one capacity or another, it helps keep them all together, at the dinner table, riding in a car or wherever.

“(Sports) is a big topic all of the time,” she said. “We have fun with it. We mess with each other.

“My dad has taught me a lot about the game. The biggest thing is to put others before yourself. My biggest thing is to get my teammates involved. Even if they’re not going to play in college, it should be a good experience for them. I try to make sure everyone has their role. I don’t want it to be about me.”

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) The Ayrault family, from left: Annabel, Adam, Andy, Kim, Julia and Joe; inset: Julia and Joe suiting up for Grosse Pointe North. (Middle) Julia and Joe celebrate a birthday together in 2012. (Below) Julia and her dad/assistant coach Andy anchor the right side of the team photo after last season’s District title win. (Photos courtesy of the Ayrault 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.