Riley Sisters, Fowler Shine on Statewide Stage

By Jason Schmitt
Special for

April 9, 2021

EAST LANSING — Fowler certainly is a small town.

Located just 30 miles northwest of Lansing, everyone in town knows everyone. And if they didn’t already know the Riley sisters’ prowess on the basketball court, they sure do now. 

Sisters Mia and Emma Riley combined to score 34 points in leading Fowler to a 54-20 victory over Bellaire on Friday in the Division 4 title game at the Breslin Center. It was Fowler’s first MHSAA Finals championship since 1991. 

“I’ll constantly have relatives who drive by their house and they’ll say, all the time, that they’re in their driveway playing one-on-one,” Fowler head coach Nathan George said of the sisters. “So it’s no coincidence that they’re in this spot, that they’re this good. All their hard work is paying off.”

Emma Riley, a sophomore, scored the first four points of the game and her older sister, Riley, scored her team’s first nine points of the second quarter as Fowler overwhelmed Bellaire early on. Fowler led 29-7 at halftime. It shot 48 percent from the field while limiting Bellaire to just three field goals and 12 percent shooting.

“We have confidence that teams will struggle against our speed and aggressiveness,” George said. “It hasn’t worked every game, but for the most part I think teams have a hard time adjusting to it because we have so many guards we can rotate in. It worked pretty well tonight. 

“When we get those fast starts and the girls get their confidence, it’s a pretty special thing to see.” 

Bellaire struggled throughout the first half, connecting on just 3 of 25 shots. It was just 1 for 11 in the first quarter and at one point missed 13 straight shots while falling behind 17-3.

“It definitely is upsetting because normally we can bounce back when shots aren’t falling in,” Bellaire senior Katie Decker said. “We have confidence in each other and hold each other up. Normally they’re going in, but I don’t know what was happening today. I guess nerves and we never settled in, but we did the best we could.”

Fowler’s defense played a big part in Bellaire’s shooting woes. George’s team collected 12 steals and forced 18 turnovers in the game. The Riley sisters accounted for eight of those steals.

2021 D4 Girls Basketball Final - Fowler

“They can shoot and they can defend,” Bellaire head coach Brad Fisher said. “They shot the ball so well and they just play a different level of defense. We knew it was coming, but to simulate it, you can’t. I don’t know that we could have done too much differently when a team shoots like that and can defend like that.”

Mia Riley, a junior, was 6 for 8 shooting in the first half, while Emma was 3 for 5.

“I try to go into the game with a lot of confidence and I know my sister does too,” said Mia, a junior. “Coach always tells us, ‘Be confident and if you get a shot, it’s going up.’ So that’s kind of our mentality. We just didn’t want to hold back this game.”

Emma Riley said she didn’t let the arena atmosphere get to her.

“(Coach) always says if you get an open look, shoot it. So nothing changed on this court,” Emma said. “We kept saying that it was an important game, but it’s just like it was back at Fowler. We just tried not to overthink it and shoot with confidence like always.”

Mia Riley finished with a game-high 18 points to go along with five rebounds and three steals. Emma Riley had 16 points, seven rebounds and five steals for Fowler (16-4). Junior Emma Halfmann and sophomore Grace Epkey each added six points.

George said he’s known how good the Riley sisters are on the basketball court. But after Friday’s performance, other people will, too.

“Being from a small town, I don’t think people get to appreciate them,” George said. “We don’t get a lot of media coverage. There aren’t a lot of people in our gyms. Their skill level is incredible. I appreciate that we get to this type of stage, where others can appreciate how good they are.”

Bellaire finished its season with an 18-4 record. Decker and junior Jacey Somers led the team with six points apiece. 

“Our girls had a pretty darn good season, too,” Fisher said. “We’ve talked about what this team has done and what this team is capable of. We have so many people to thank, the community, the MHSAA has been awesome. 

“I’m just so proud of my girls. This was a fun ride. Eventually the season has to come to an end. And we had a couple special victories along the way. It’s obviously not the outcome we wanted, but we still made history.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Fowler's Avery Koenigsknecht (3) works to get past Bellaire's Emersyn Koekpe during Friday's Division 4 Final. (Middle) Fowler's Leah Wieber (22) works to get to the basket. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.