Rising Centreville Focused on Next Step

By Wes Morgan
Special for MHSAA.com

December 7, 2017

Perhaps the most obvious sign that the Centreville girls varsity basketball program had made a complete turnaround was the fact that it won a handful of games last winter that it shouldn’t have.

The Bulldogs also won a boatload of games decisively. After starting the year with a loss to Constantine, head coach Jill Peterson’s program rattled off 19 consecutive victories and won a Berrien-Cassopolis-St. Joseph Blue championship on its way to a 19-2 final record.

Under Peterson’s guidance, the Bulldogs went from a 4-15 squad her first season in 2013-14 to last year’s unprecedented run that included a No. 3 state ranking in The Associated Press Class C poll. In between were 13-10 (2014-15) and 14-7 (2015-16) seasons.

“We played Athens and we were down four with four seconds [left] and hit a couple free throws, stole the inbound and tied it, went into overtime and won,” Peterson recalled. “That shows a lot in terms of your resiliency as a team and just experience.”

Still, the program’s first District championship eluded it once again with a loss to Schoolcraft in the Final. It was the fourth straight year the Eagles ended Centreville’s season. This might have been the year the Bulldogs got revenge, but the District draws have been shuffled a bit, and the two schools will compete in different Districts in 2018.

Centreville returns eight players this season with varsity experience, and they “get along better than any team I’ve coached,” Peterson explained. After a short stint in the BCS, the Bulldogs are now members of the first-year Southwest 10 Conference.

The senior class consists of senior guard/forward Carly Todd, who averaged 4.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 2.6 steals per contest last year, Kayla Gest, a guard who registered 5.6 points, 2.5 rebounds and was a 28-percent 3-point shooter as a junior, guard Carlee Odom, who posted 6.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per outing, Brittany Morris, who averaged 3.1 points and 4.9 rebounds, and Morgan Walton, who is in her first year on the varsity team.

After making the all-BCS team as a freshman, sophomore forward Joanna Larsen is back and looking to retain the momentum from her rookie campaign that resulted in 7.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Fellow all-conference selection Samara Schlabach, who was also named an all-state honorable mention following her sophomore season last year, produced 9.3 points and six rebounds per game.

Those players, combined with juniors MaKenzi Troyer (guard), Abby Nighswonger (guard) Whitney Morris (guard) and Molly Kirby (forward), and sophomores Olivia Deeds (guard) and Kenleigh West-Wing (guard), have made Centreville’s practices just as competitive as their games so far.

Centreville is 1-1, dropping an overtime battle on the road against a talented Bronson squad.

“They push each other more than any team I’ve coached,” Peterson said. “That really speaks volumes for the progress we’ve made over the last four years — not just what the coaching staff is doing but what the players have put in and what they’re bringing to the table.”

The Bulldogs are set up this year inside and on the perimeter. Schlabach is a matchup nightmare in the paint on top of boasting a reliable jumper, and Larsen is equally tough to stop down low. The two come together defensively to all but shut down the lane and limit opponents’ second opportunities by clearing the boards.

Todd has accepted every challenge thrown at her over the years, including a post assignment as an undersized underclassman. Now she’s a big threat with the ball in her hands as a slashing guard with a good outside shot. Odom also has an eye and the ability to carve through defenses as the team’s floor leader. She’s another scoring concern for opponents, but her most important role will be feeding the post.

As a senior, Todd now realizes she has an even bigger responsibility to help mold the team’s attitude on a daily basis.

“What I’ve noticed is when it’s one of those days when I don’t really feel like talking, it’s like, ‘Come on, Carly, you’ve got to put on that mask like you’re in a good mood,’” she said. “If the leaders are in a bad mood, everybody else could be in a bad mood. I just have to be conscious of it.”

What might be the most crucial aspect of this team is the players’ complete disregard for winning streaks and rankings.

“Honestly, it didn’t even hit me that we were winning that many games or that we were ranked in the state,” Odom said. “I didn’t think about it much and still worked hard. But it was cool winning all those games.”

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

Centreville team photo courtesy of JoeInsider.com.

Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

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.