Shutdown Defense Lands Portland in 1st Final

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

April 7, 2021

GRAND RAPIDS – Defense has been a staple of the Portland girls basketball team all season. 

The Raiders displayed that defensive prowess when it mattered most and are on their way to their first Finals appearance after a 45-38 win over Parma Western in Wednesday’s second Division 2 Semifinal at Van Andel Arena.

Portland held the Panthers scoreless the final 4½ minutes to punch its ticket to Friday’s championship game against Newaygo.

“It’s been like that all year for us,” Raiders coach Jason Haid said. “We spend an awful lot of time on defense, and that’s been key for us all year. We felt like they were getting in the paint too much in the first half, so we really focused on closing the gaps and taking away the paint and getting those tough rebounds.”

Parma Western’s Alyssa Gennety scored on a lay-up with 4:29 remaining to put her team ahead 38-37.

Unfortunately for the Panthers (18-5), those were the last points they would muster.

“We tried to slow the game down a little bit, and then we missed some crucial layups and had to put them on the line,” Parma Western coach Gina Fortress said. “We just couldn’t dig out of that hole.”

Parma Western, which was led by Lilli Luma’s 15 points and nine rebounds, also was searching for its first MHSAA Finals appearance. 

“Our main goal and the focus for this season was to win a Regional championship, and we did that and then we won on Monday so every game we’ve gotten past we’ve been so thankful for,” Fortress said. “And what an experience for these girls to come here and play in the Van Andel and have the experience we had today. We showed up to play, we gave them a good game and that was our plan all along.”

Portland/Parma Western Division 2 Semifinal 2Portland junior guard Ava Guilford made perhaps the biggest shot of the game. Her 3-pointer with 2 minutes left gave the Raiders a lead they would never relinquish.

“I just wanted to help my team any way I could, and my 3-pointer was looking good,” said Guilford, who made four from long range and finished with 12 points.

Portland, which led 25-21 at the half, last made an appearance in the Semifinals 11 years ago. 

That made the journey to get back even more satisfying.

“This was a history-making game,” Haid said. “No other Portland team has done that, and this is a very proud program. There’s been a lot of good teams that have come through Portland.

“It’s been a goal of ours to get here, and they’ve been dreaming about this for a long time. I’m just proud of the way they battled all game, and I’m just really happy for them.”

Junior Ashley Bower paced Portland (19-2) with 17 points, including making 7 of 9 from the free throw line.

“We’ve always dreamed about going to the Breslin, and to play for a state championship is just really exciting,” Bower said. “I’m proud of the way we played.”

Added senior point guard Ava Gruber, who had a team-high six assists: “It means a lot. All of us have played together since we were in third grade, and we’ve looked forward to this. All of our hard work is finally paying off.”

Friday’s Division 2 Final will be a rare rematch.

Portland handed Newaygo its only loss of the season, 38-33.  

“They are just like us,” Haid said. “They play hard-nosed physical man-to-man defense and mix in a little zone. They have great guard play and they are a hungry team, as are we. It’s a great match-up with two smaller schools going at it again, and we will be up for the challenge.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Portland defenders swarm a driving Parma Western player Wednesday at Van Andel Arena. (Middle) The Raiders' Ashley Bower (10) and Western's Riley Kubiak battle for a loose ball. (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.