Plan Plays Out Well for Cousino Standout

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

December 1, 2016

WARREN – As a teacher at Carter Middle School, Mike Lee, the varsity girls basketball coach at Warren Cousino, was approached by one of his students who made a rather boisterous statement.

“There was this girl,” Lee said. “She was in the sixth grade and she came up to me and said, ‘I’m going to play for you as a freshman.’ No, I didn’t believe her. She was long, but she was a bean pole.”

Intrigued, Lee went to watch this skinny 10-year-old play and was impressed but not yet sold.

This girl is now one of the state’s best basketball players. Her name is Kierra Fletcher, and she won the hearts of everyone in the Warren Consolidated School system – which includes high schools Cousino, Mott and Sterling Heights – by leading the Patriots, and the Warren district as a whole, to their first girls MHSAA Finals basketball title.

By the time Fletcher was in the eighth grade, Lee knew Fletcher’s bold statement would come to fruition. She was that good.

“She was still skinny,” Lee said. “It wasn’t until her junior year that she bulked up.

“Obviously, she’s talented. I am pretty lucky to have someone like Fletch. But it’s what she does for the other players that makes her special. She makes them better. She puts them in spots to succeed. They want to play faster. There’s a higher energy. On the defensive side, you know she’s out there, getting steals and such. The others feed off of her.”

Fletcher, 16, is 5-foot-9 and a bundle of energy. And that energy was there from the start.

“I was out in (first grade) early,” Fletcher said. “My mom said I was talking all of the time. The teachers (in preschool) told her I was way ahead of the other kids.”

Born and raised in Detroit, Fletcher attended Dove Academy until the third grade, when her family moved to Warren. She attended Siersma Elementary within the Warren Consolidated district and then went to Carter.

Fletcher was also ahead of the curve when it came to basketball. She started playing competitively in the Warren recreation leagues, but before that she got the itch playing in her grandmother’s driveway.

“She had a basket in her backyard,” Fletcher said. “I would play by myself, and sometimes I’d play with an older cousin and my dad (Anthony Fletcher). My dad used to be really good. He played in college and he could have gone pro, but he had a bad heart and had to stop playing.”

Fletcher began playing AAU basketball in the fifth grade. It took less than a week for the coaches to move Fletcher up to play with the sixth grade team. That was nothing new for her. And she said it’s one reason why she continued to improve.

“I had been playing up for a while,” she said. “I always played with older kids. They had more experience, and I learned from it. What I learned was it doesn’t matter how old or how big you are. I’d play well and they wouldn’t know I was younger, and they’d tell me to keep playing and that made me feel good.”

Fletcher was on the bench for her first varsity game as a freshman, but she didn’t stay there long. Lee put her in the game in the first quarter, much to Fletcher’s surprise.

“I’ll never forget it,” she said. “It was against Romeo, and it was our home opener. I was nervous. I didn’t want to mess up.”

That nervousness and her coming off the bench didn’t last long. Soon she was in the starting lineup gaining more confidence as the season progressed.

As a sophomore she was one of the top players in the Detroit area, as she averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds per game. That fine season placed her in at least one publication’s 2015-16 preseason top 25 (State Champs! ranked her No. 14), and soon everyone who followed the sport knew about her.

Fletcher averaged 23 points, 10 rebounds, 9.4 assists and 5.5 steals as Cousino (23-4) made its run on the way to eventually defeating Detroit Martin Luther King, 67-65, in the Class A Final to complete a remarkable season for the Patriots and Fletcher.

Fletcher saved her best for last, as she had 37 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the Semifinal (a 60-45 win over Hudsonville), and had 27 points, eight rebounds and five assists against King.

“I love to compete,” she said. “I love the friendships. I’ve met a lot of people playing basketball. Sports teaches you discipline, in the way you live life. Sports has a way of bringing people together.”

Fletcher turned down a number of other college scholarship offers, including one from University of Michigan, to sign with Georgia Tech. She has a 3.7 grade-point average and plans on majoring in public policy and working for the U.S. Government.

“I also have aspirations of playing professionally,” she said. “Overseas or in the WNBA.”

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) Kierra Fletcher (3) poses for a photo with her teammates after Warren Cousino won last season’s Class A championship. (Middle) Fletcher brings the ball up the court during her team’s Semifinal win over Hudsonville.

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.