Paw Paw Following New Coach, Sophomore Standouts to Renewed Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for

January 18, 2022

PAW PAW — New coach, new attitude and new results have sparked the Paw Paw girls basketball team to success it has not seen in years.

Southwest CorridorThe new-look Red Wolves (7-2) will battle Otsego (10-1) on Friday, with the winner landing atop the Wolverine Conference.

That's been unvisited territory the last few seasons for Paw Paw, which finished with a 5-12 record last season and 6-15 two years ago.

“I thought they’d be better than the five games (they won) last year,” coach Ernie Ramirez said. “They’re exceeding my expectations right now.”

Two sophomores are instrumental in the turnaround.

At 6-foot-1, Katelyn Baney – who was honorable mention all-state last year – has already received a scholarship offer from Western Michigan University. She averages 13 points, 11.2 rebounds, three steals, 2.6 assists and 1.5 blocks per game.

Paw Paw basketballBecause of a broken arm, Addison Roy played just four games during last year’s COVID-shortened season. But the 5-11 sophomore has been putting up numbers on the court this year as well, averaging 11.7 points per game, 12.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals per contest.

Both have tallied five double-doubles, three times posting them together in the same game.

Baney honed her skills practicing with older players, including her sister, Allison, who was a senior when Baney was in third grade.

Ramirez said Baney may be young, but she is long in experience.

“With all the basketball she’s played, travel basketball, multiple games, if you add all those games, it’s probably like a senior’s worth of games,” he said.

“That’s unique. Sometimes all the games outside the school add up to another season.”

The coach said Roy has been a surprise.

“She works hard at her game,” he said. “She’s the one who says, ‘Hey Coach, can I stay 20 or 25 minutes after?’

“She’s going to be that girl who always improves because she works at her game. She is that quiet leader.”

Roy said the way she improves is by listening and watching.

“I try to really focus and be open to what everyone else has to say, take a little piece of advice from everyone because everyone has a little piece of advice to offer to help you become a better player,” she said.

“I also watch my teammates to see if I can do (what they’re doing) too, if it works for them.”

Seniors tasting success

Ramirez is especially happy that the three seniors on the team are experiencing a winning season.

“The girl that’s probably played the most varsity is Taylor Rickli,” he said. “She’s been there through thick and thin, the first girl they had to pull up (to varsity) when she got to high school.

“Jackie Villanueva has always been the ‘rah rah girl’ on the team. Sophia Griffin is also probably tired of having those losing seasons.”

Paw Paw basketballThe five juniors on the team are Hannah Conway, Leah Wilder, Sammi Jurgensen, Avery Vogel and Molly McNitt. Freshmen Grace Mitchell and AJ Rickli join them as well.

Baney said the key to this year’s team is “our team is stronger and has a greater knowledge of our sport of basketball.

“I think we click a little better and we all have the ultimate goal of wanting to win.”

Roy added that team chemistry has a lot to do with the Red Wolves’ success

“We all really do get along on and off the court, which helps a lot with playing as a team,” she said.

“I think we’re all sick of losing in any sport. Coming off a losing season makes you want to work harder.”

Baney said after her freshman year, she knows other teams are aware of her on the court: “I feel I do get targeted a lot and double-teamed, but it makes it even better that I’m seen that way through other people’s eyes.”

Ramirez said the sophomore is one of the team captains for a reason.

“You need one of those young people who can work with the middle school kids,” he said. “They see her as an example, not only on the court but off the court, too.

“I see some of the younger kids gravitate to her. She’s a little bit of a stats-stuffer, too.”

Ramirez said the young players are the future of the team, and that future looks bright.

The junior varsity is currently undefeated.

“The JV team pushes the varsity girls to keep playing the way they are because they want to get on varsity,” he said.

“That’s one of those good things where the program as a whole is getting better.”

Paw Paw a good fit

Ramirez, who is a research and development specialist at Zoetis in Kalamazoo, said he was helping a friend do some offseason coaching that included a few girls from Paw Paw.

Paw Paw basketballThey mentioned the varsity job might be open.

“I juggled it in my head because I was at Comstock,” he said. “Something pulled me over here.

“I already knew they had a core group of girls who were dedicated to the gym. That’s always a must for me.”

He said by June, he knew it was a good fit because “there were already girls lined up to do summer stuff with me, wanting to do a lot of scrimmaging and whatnot.”

Ramirez said the program’s success is a team effort, and not only from the players.

“I have a great coaching staff; it’s not just me,” he said. “Katie Steers is a new JV coach; my assistant coach Montana Martin is new and came with me from Comstock.

“They all played basketball at Trine University, so they’re a good woman example of teaching how to be a good high school and college athlete. I’m only as good as my coaching staff.”

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) Paw Paw sophomores Addison Roy, left, and Katelyn Baney are leading a resurgent varsity this winter. (2) From top: Baney, Roy and coach Ernie Ramirez. (3) Roy gets in position for a rebound against Vicksburg. (4) Baney follows through on a free throw. (Action photos by Brent McNitt/1001 Words Photography. Head shots by Pam Shebest.)

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.