For Salenbiens, 'Silly Game' = Family Fun

March 9, 2018

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

When the Adrian Lenawee Christian girls basketball team beat Portland St. Patrick to win a Class D Regional Semifinal this week, first-year Cougars head coach Jamie Salenbien didn’t need to look far to find someone to hug.

His wife, Debbie, was sitting a few feet away at the scorer’s table.

Next on the to-do list was find and hug his daughter, Dani, an LCS sophomore who dribbled away the final seconds for the Cougars after scoring a game-high 21 points. Last, but not least, there was another daughter, freshman phenom Bree, who had just scored 19 points and had several key baskets during Lenawee Christian’s second-half rally. His sons, Tyler and Jaxon, were nearby, too, and ready for a quick high-five.

For the Salenbien family, basketball is a passion. Whether it’s in the family’s backyard in Lenawee County or on a basketball court somewhere in southeast Michigan, the “silly game” as Coach Salenbien calls it not only has meant a lot to his family, but to the Lenawee Christian family, too.

“Our community is very much behind us,” Jamie Salenbien said. “It’s a great wave of support. We’re enjoying every minute of it.”

The Cougars won the school’s first Regional title since 2010 on Thursday, beating Plymouth Christian, and will play Athens (21-4) on Tuesday in the Quarterfinal at Richland Gull Lake. LCS is 23-1 and on a 16-game win streak. It’s only loss this season was to Class A Monroe. That loss was by one point, 41-40.

Jamie Salenbien is a Hudson native who played college basketball at Siena Heights University in Adrian. He once scored 50 points in a game in high school but doesn’t like to talk about any individual honors or accolades he has received. He and Debbie have been married 18 years. They met at a friend’s wedding – and that friend was at the Regional game this week in Morrice. Debbie played basketball at Allen Park Inter-City Baptist and in college, too.

The family always has loved a little competition.

“When our kids were little, we played a lot of games,” Coach Salenbien said. “Of course, we played a lot of basketball, too. And, I coached them when they were young. And, when I coached at Onsted, they were always around. The girls spent a lot of time around the game, and they fell in love with it. I love it, Debbie loves it, so it’s just a good match.”

Dani said the family talks basketball quite a bit – even at dinner. But, she said, she’s fine with it.

“It’s a part of our family,” Dani said. “It always has been. It’s interesting some of the time. But, its part of who we are.”

Dani, 16, burst onto the prep basketball scene in Lenawee County last season, showing remarkable poise for her age and quickly becoming the team’s go-to player even though they had an all-stater in Kiera Nieto. Bree, 14, joined the varsity this season and finished the regular season as Lenawee County’s top scorer. At 6-foot-2, she runs the floor like a point guard and posts up like a center. She’s the point person on the LCS full-court press, making it difficult for anyone to throw it over her head.

Entering the Regional, Bree Salenbien had averages of 21.1 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.5 steals, 3.2 blocks and 3.0 assists per game.

“She can score inside and out,” her father said. “She’s a tough matchup for anyone. We try and utilize her best we can in that fashion.”

Dani’s numbers are just as impressive. She averages 13.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 4.0 steals a game.

Both girls take after their parents – humble, full of smiles and deflecting of the attention.

“I love my teammates to death, and we do it all together,” Dani said. “That makes it all better. We have a term called ‘84-50’ (which are the dimensions, in feet, of a basketball court). We keep everything on the floor. We don’t think of anything outside of the gym or the court. We’re all about each other. I can’t do anything without my teammates.”

Bree said she and her sister have a special relationship on the court.

“I usually know where she is,” she said. “We have a connection. She’s a great ball handler. I know I need to get the ball to her. She’s a great player. My dad is a great coach. My mom is amazing. My brothers are great fans. We just love it.”

Debbie Salenbien works at LCS and serves as the scorekeeper for the team. Just before the tipoff of Thursday’s Regional championship game, after the starting lineups were introduced, both girls walked over to their mom, gave her a fist bump and handed her their warm-up shirts.

“We talk a lot about basketball,” Debbie said. “Basketball is always on television. We go to some University of Michigan games. We just love basketball.”

When the season ends, Jamie said he will have time to reflect on just how special this season has been for not only the Lenawee Christian community but his own family.

And, it looks like there are plenty of more good times to come. The Cougars start a freshman, three sophomores and a junior.

“They put a tremendous amount of time into this silly game,” he said of his daughters and their teammates. “We preach fundamentals – how to pass, catch, dribble, shoot. The whole experience has been awesome. I have to let it soak in more, but I know it’s awesome.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Lenawee Christian freshman Bree Salenbien brings the ball upcourt; she led Lenawee County in scoring average this season at 21 ppg. (Middle) Basketball is a passion for the Salenbien family, including head coach Jamie, his wife Debbie (at the scorers table) and sophomore Dani Salenbien, here during Thursday’s Regional Final win over Plymouth Christian. (Photos by Mike Dickie.)

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.