Performance: Bellaire's Lexi Niepoth

January 12, 2018

Lexi Niepoth
Bellaire senior – Basketball

Bellaire’s 5-foot-8 forward added another memorable accomplishment to a high school career she expects to finish this spring with 11 varsity letters across three sports. Niepoth, a Class D all-state honorable mention a year ago, grabbed 27 rebounds to go with 24 points in a 54-21 win over Johannesburg-Lewiston on Friday to set a school record for rebounds and earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

Niepoth is averaging 15 points, 14 rebounds (including six offensive), 3.8 steals and 2.2 assists per game, and her 27 rebounds made the MHSAA record book tying for 17th-most grabbed in one game. Niepoth is a four-year varsity basketball player, and this season’s team is 8-1 and ranked No. 2 in Class D by The Associated Press. Niepoth’s impact on both ends of the floor is obvious; she’s the best passer on the team to go with her scoring and rebounding, and she’s a “ball hawk” defensively able to guard every position while helping key the Eagles’ press. Niepoth also was a four-year varsity volleyball player and all-area selection as an outside hitter, and she’ll play her third year of varsity softball in the spring – she had to miss last season after injuring an ankle near the end of basketball season.

Her athletic successes go hand in hand with her classroom performance. Niepoth has a 3.945 grade-point average and is leaning toward studying psychology at Ferris State University after graduation. She has worked as a teacher aide in a special education class and would like to work with children in the future. She serves as a fine example to players coming up in Bellaire’s program, and she’ll be back on the court Friday against Pellston – before a matchup Wednesday against rival Gaylord St. Mary that likely will pit the first-place teams in the Ski Valley Conference.

Coach Brad Fischer said: “From day one she has made us a better team. Flat-out, she is a game changer, a tenacious player that never quits on a play. She can and often does dominate the game by her relentless effort rebounding and controlling the boards. The defensive pressure she puts on our opponents makes us go. … Her impact on the entire program may be immeasurable. For the past four seasons she has given her team, the program, and me as her coach the belief and confidence that no matter who we play we have the chance to win each contest. Not every program can say that, and I can without hesitation. Belief and confidence plays an important role in athletics, academics, and in life. With her that belief and confidence has made it throughout our entire program by her peers watching her and the constant positive examples we use of her for our younger players to emulate. That has made such a positive flow of influence from the high school level all the way down to our youth program. Lexi has been one of the main reasons for our recent success through her dominance, reliability and being a great teammate and role model on and off the court.”  

Performance Point: “I don’t really think about it as I play. I just go for the ball. At halftime, my coaches kept telling me to rebound, and I could just tell; they were like, ‘You’re pretty close to the record.’ So I just kept rebounding and didn’t want to think about it a whole lot, so I didn’t freak out. When I was sitting on the bench, the JV coach that was sitting on the bench came to me and said, ‘You’re really close. Just keep playing, and keep rebounding.’ During the game, I don’t really think about how much I score or how much I rebound, so it’s rewarding – and it shocked me, to be honest.”

Own the boards: “My coach says sometimes in practice how I’m falling in love with just jumping for the ball instead of boxing out. But I feel like when they shoot it, I just assume it’s not going to go in, because obviously I like to rebound. But I also try to watch where the ball is going to bounce off the rim. I don’t really box out, to be honest. I just kinda run around the people – and then just jump as high as I can to try to get the ball.”

Finish strong: “We’re senior-based. I’ve been with Tally Goodwin all four years too, and I think her and I probably work the best just because we’ve had that experience. … Ever since freshman year, I never really thought senior year would come. I think it’s kinda cool: We were good freshman year. We were good sophomore year. We struggled junior year, and this year I feel like everything is clicking and the teamwork and team chemistry is probably one of the best I’ve had all my four years.”

Be the example: “I love the younger kids, and actually last year I was the coach and helped out with one of the youth programs. I just hope that I’m a good role model for them to become and do their best – (to teach them) the work ethic, or always trying your hardest even if you’re down by 15 or you’re up by 20, to try to still go after every ball, try to still make every lay-up, every shot. And also how you work with your teammates and how you work with the other teams, your sportsmanship and your attitude.”

On a mission to help kids: “I went to Belize on a mission trip with my youth group (over Christmas her freshman year), and it kind’ve all started there. You do things for them, say things to them. You teach them, and it sticks. It’s rewarding to see what you taught them and their growth.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2017-18 honorees:
November 30: La'Darius Jefferson, Muskegon football - Read
November 23: Ashley Turak, Farmington Hills Harrison swimming - Read
November 16: Bryce Veasley, West Bloomfield football - Read 
November 9: Jose Penaloza, Holland soccer - Read
November 2: Karenna Duffey, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North cross country - Read
October 26: Anika Dy, Traverse City Central golf - Read
October 19: Andrew Zhang, Bloomfield Hills tennis - Read
October 12: Nolan Fugate, Grand Rapids Catholic Central football - Read
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Bellaire's Lexi Niepoth (13) blocks a passing lane during a game this season. (Middle) Niepoth makes a move to the basket. (Photos courtesy of the Bellaire girls basketball program.)

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.