Renaissance Rises Again in Detroit PSL

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

February 16, 2017

DETROIT – Detroit Renaissance has had one of the top girls basketball programs in the Detroit Public School League for some time.

The Phoenix reached an MHSAA Final (Class B) for the first time in 1996. In 2005, Renaissance won its only title (also in Class B) with Diane Jones serving as head coach and current head coach Kiwan Ward a member of her staff. Renaissance reached the Class A Final in 2010 and 2011, also with Ward as an assistant coach.

The Phoenix are 14-3 this winter, having lost to Detroit Martin Luther King in a PSL semifinal 56-47 on Feb. 8. They are enjoying another successful season even after graduating one of the top players in the state in 2015-16, now-Penn State freshman Siyeh Frazier, and despite the challenges of a changing landscape in PSL girls hoops.   

While Ward believes the distance between the PSL’s most and least successful programs has grown in recent years, Renaissance remains stable. In her sixth season as head coach, Ward has 11 varsity players and continues to field a competitive junior varsity while others in the league are having a tough time doing the same. 

“We have good chemistry,” senior Victoria Wright said of this year’s team. “It’s our defense that helps us win. The bond we have on and off the court is special. We always have a good time together.”

All eight of the Phoenix's league wins this winter were by double figures, and in six of those wins they held opponents to 25 or fewer points. 

Renaissance’s only other losses this season were twice to Detroit Mumford, which will play King for the PSL title Saturday. (Renaissance and Mumford both finished 8-2 in league play to tie for first in the PSL West Division 1, but Mumford because of its sweep of the Phoenix earned the league title and a top seed in the PSL Big D Tournament.)

Despite graduating Frazier, the Phoenix returned three starters from last season’s 14-5 team and are more balanced this winter. They are led by seniors Wright and Nina Reynolds; Wright is averaging 14 points and eight rebounds per game, and Reynolds is averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds. 

In addition to its PSL success, Renaissance also owns a 15-point win from December over Southfield Arts & Technology, the leader in the Oakland Activities Association Red and another expected Class A contender.

A game of that caliber has helped the Phoenix as the degree of parity in girls basketball in the PSL has shifted of late, creating challenges for some of the strongest programs. 

It’s the drop-off in many others that has hurt teams like Renaissance, Detroit Cass Tech, Detroit King and Detroit Mumford that remain the most competitive. There are just four PSL programs that sponsor a junior varsity, which leads to scheduling difficulties, as Ward has seen players leave for schools outside the city.

Ward said she doesn’t blame parents for sending their children to other Wayne County schools with open enrollment. Ward said uncertainty within the Detroit Public Schools as to which schools will remain open and which will close has parents on edge.

It’s reported that as many as 24 schools in DPS will close this year. Rumors abound which schools will close, but at this time they are just that: rumors.

“Look at it from a broader point of view,” Ward said. “The talent is watered down (in the PSL). I remember when I (played) at Detroit Benedictine. We looked forward to playing PSL teams. Every game was competitive. No disrespect to anyone, but it’s hard for the girls to get geeked-up when you beat someone 74-11.”

That was the score when Renaissance won in the first round of the PSL playoffs, defeating a former league power now in the midst of a tough run.

It’s different for the boys, where competition remains high. Sure, there aren’t powerhouse teams like Detroit Southwestern and Detroit Cooley of the late 1980s and early 1990s (although Detroit Western and Henry Ford both won their first MHSAA boys titles over the last two seasons), but there aren’t nearly the number of one-sided games in league play as there are for the girls. 

“There are eight to 10 teams on the boys side that are good,” Ward said. “With Cass Tech being down this year, we have like three good teams.”

Wright said she hopes to continue playing at the next level, possibly at Coastal Carolina. She said playing teams like King, Mumford and Southfield Arts & Technology brings out the best in her and her teammates. 

Last season King defeated Renaissance in the PSL final, 68-66, to win its fifth consecutive league title.

“When you win by so much, it’s tough to play those games,” she said. “The competitive nature just isn’t there. It’s not that we’re not trying hard. 

"It makes a big difference when you play those tougher teams."

Still, the top of the PSL remains strong – Renaissance included. King is expected to contend for its sixth Class A title under coach William Winfield and after finishing runner-up a year ago. Mumford also could make noise again in Class B.

Ward isn’t concerned about her program. It’s the others she’s worried about.

The Phoenix will finish their regular season next week against Detroit Country Day and Romulus before starting District play.

“The future in the PSL is uncertain,” Ward said. “For us, we’ll continue to get better.”

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) Detroit Renaissance starters are introduced during a game this season. (Middle) Nina Reynolds (left) and Victoria Wright. (Below) The Phoenix set up their defense. (Photos courtesy of the Detroit Renaissance 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.