Performance: Heritage's Shine Strickland-Gills

March 22, 2018

Shine Strickland-Gills
Saginaw Heritage junior – Basketball

On back-to-back days, Heritage’s 6-foot-1 forward put together back-to-back standout performances at Van Noord Arena to lead the Hawks to their first MHSAA girls basketball title since 2002. She had 12 points, seven rebounds and four steals in a 46-28 Semifinal win over Grosse Pointe North, then 12 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in Saturday’s 57-36 Class A championship victory over East Lansing to earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

This season, Strickland-Gills averaged 12.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 2.2 assists and two steals per game as Heritage finished 27-1 – its only loss was in double overtime to eventual Class C champion Detroit Edison. She also started as a sophomore when the Hawks finished 20-2 and was a varsity sub when they were 22-2 in 2015-16.

Strickland-Gills still has plenty of time to figure out her future, of course, but she'll choose from Division I college basketball opportunities and is interested in a career in the medical field, perhaps as a physician’s assistant. She’s also played volleyball and participated in track & field at Heritage, although she’s unsure if she’ll compete in either sport moving forward.

Coach Vonnie DeLong said: “Shine has developed into one of the best post players in the state. She has come so far since her freshman year, physically, mentally and emotionally. She has always been a very hard worker and spends hours in the gym. But this year there is a maturity about her that really took her to the next level. Her hard work was finally paying off and as she started seeing the results it just motivated her even more. She has developed a great understanding of the game. She has also become one of our vocal floor leaders, which allows her to ‘quarterback’ the back of our defense. I always tell my kids, ‘I can't give you confidence. The only way you gain more confidence is by putting the time in and transferring it to game situations. It comes down to preparation.' Shine has done that and is now a pretty confident basketball player. She has also become a great teammate. We don't win the state championship without her. … I'm excited to see what the next year holds for Shine.  She seemed to get better every game this year, and after another offseason of workouts and AAU, I am sure she will be even better next year. I'm just happy I get the opportunity to coach her for another season. She is a very coachable, kind, fun-loving kid that I am really going to miss when she moves on.”

Performance Point: “What’s sticking out the most is how relentless we are and how focused we are because it’s extremely hard to play back-to-back like that, especially two really tough games,” Strickland-Gills said of her memories from the weekend. “That we came out and performed hard, and did the best we can, I was very proud of that. We knew that if we came to play Friday, we would have a sure chance of winning and to play on Saturday. And if Saturday we came to play, we could really do it. … There’s been a lot of congratulations. Every time I come down the hallway, every teacher I’ve had, and I got lots of teacher emails and stuff like that.”

Shining Moment: “When (Coach DeLong) took us out with two minutes to go, when everybody sat down, we were all just like, ‘We did it. Finally, we just really did it.’ And it really hit – we just won states. It was a very proud moment.”

Expectations met: “In the past we’ve had really good groups. But this year was something special because we had a better mindset before we got into the tournament. Everybody bought in, and our practices were a lot, lot better. We even got better as a team during the tournament. … We never stopped getting better and we never stopped going hard, and I think that was a major difference that helped us.”

Pride in my roles: “My team is really good at scoring. That’s what they do. My team doesn’t always need somebody to score 20 points a game. We just need to play defense – you can’t win without stopping your opponent from scoring. My team (also) really needs me to rebound, so that’s what I focus on. I know if I do my job, I can really reap the benefits. … ‘Coming out, I need to score 10, 15 points,’ has never been a thought in my head. I just need to come to play and do what my coach tells me to do, and we’ll get it done. I take a lot more joy in my teammates scoring and seeing how happy they get, how happy the crowd gets, rather than just me.”

Making her name: “I was born in spring. At the beginning of April, it isn’t too warm, but it was super hot that day. (My mother) was like, ‘I don’t know what to name her.’ So my original name was going to be J. My dad wanted to name me Erma after his mom. So my mom said, ‘You know, it’s hot outside. So we’re just going to name her Shine.”

- 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:
March 15: Skyler Cook-Weeks, Holland Christian swimming - Read
March 8: Dakota Greer, Howard City Tri-County wrestling - Read
March 1: Camree' Clegg, Wayne Memorial basketball - Read
February 23: Aliah Robertson, Sault Ste. Marie swimming - Read
February 16: Austin O'Hearon, Eaton Rapids wrestling - Read
February 9: Sophia Wiard, Muskegon Oakridge basketball - Read
February 2: Brenden Tulpa, Hartland hockey - Read
January 25: Brandon Whitman, Dundee wrestling - Read
January 18: Derek Maas, Holland West Ottawa swimming - Read
January 11: Lexi Niepoth, Bellaire basketball - Read
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) Saginaw Heritage's Shine Strickland-Gills works to get past East Lansing's Jaida Hampton during Saturday's Class A Final. (Middle) Strickland-Gills goes up for the opening jump.

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.