St. John's Potent All-Around Game Includes Abilities To Direct, Dazzle

By Tim Robinson
Special for

February 25, 2022

HOWELL — Maeve St. John is, as an opposing coach described her, “the straw that stirs the drink” on the Howell girls basketball team.

And, at first glance, the evidence backs that assertion.

She is the team’s captain, leading scorer, one of its top rebounders, the school record-holder for assists and she also paces the Highlanders in charges taken, steals and blocked shots.

But, she said, her teammates keep her in line and focused, and that has made the difference in a Howell team that has beaten Division 1 powers Hartland and Wayne Memorial this season, with a possible rematch with Hartland in next week’s District tournament.

The difference?

“I accept criticism a lot better,” St. John says. “Last year, I was definitely more hard-headed. I feel I’m taking so much more advice from my teammates, and they hold me much more accountable. They can help me be better.”

What she’s been good at this season is helping her teammates be better, finding an open teammate, which in turn opens up more shots for herself.

Asked if she prefers scoring to feeding her teammates, St. John is quick with an answer.

“Assists are way better,” she said. “It's fun watching your teammates score, going in and getting a bucket and hitting shots. That’s exciting.”

St. John is averaging 15 points per game, with a robust 7.2 assists per contest and nearly three steals per as well.

“She’s better at harnessing her energy, and not feeling she has to be the one who does it all,” Howell coach Tim Olszewski said. “Maybe it’s an increased trust in her teammates, but she’s understanding that if she can draw an extra defender to her, then one of her teammates is open.”

St. John also occasionally makes a flashy move for no other reason than she can, sometimes looking over at the Howell bench with a smirk on her face.

“If you’re not trying to have fun out there, you’re not going to have fun,” she said. “I’m always looking to have fun out there. I’m always competing, trying new moves. Sometimes, they work. Sometimes they don’t, and I’m on the bench. Either way, it’s fun to try new things, to see what you’re capable of.”

That keeps opposing coaches, and her teammates, on alert, especially when St. John sees an opening and whips the ball to a teammate that may or may not be anticipating the pass.

“That happens a lot,” teammate Molly Duerloo said, chuckling. “But we capitalize on that. Her (on-court) vision has become better.”

Make no mistake about it: St. John has that rare combination of talent, curiosity, and joy one doesn’t often see in a top player.

“Boy, can she play this game,” Olszewski said. “She’s one of those special, special players. She just is. I don’t know how else to say it. She’s got the ability and the head about herself, and it’s going to be wonderful to watch her for four years at Northwood, because I think she’s going to excel there.”

Brighton coach Paul Ash, after watching her in a game in mid-February, also was impressed.

“I love watching that kid,” he said. “I’d pay money to watch that kid play. She’s a real, real competitor. She’s a fun kid to watch.”

St. John has little regret when it comes to sending up long-distance shots (she routinely launches 3-point tries from well beyond the arc), but also has no qualms about driving the lane or going after rebounds.

“She just plays at a high level,” Hartland coach Don Palmer said. “She’s exciting, she’s aggressive, and those kids just follow along,”

In addition to leading her team in most statistical categories, she also works closely with teammates in practice and even during games.

“She holds everyone accountable in practice,” Duerloo said. “She pushes everyone to be the best player they can be. She picks me up during a game if I’m not going good. She’ll say, ‘Hey you’ve got this. Next play. Believe in yourself.’”

The support, St. John said, goes both ways.

“They hold me accountable,” she said. “There are definitely some looks, some cussing out, ‘Hey, let’s go.’ That kind of thing. It’s a mutual respect. I think this group is something special. We’re all so close. We have all these inside jokes. Bus rides are fun. We feel so confident when we’re with each other.

“My teammates fuel me,” she added. “You look at someone going 110 percent, if you’re telling them to do something and you’re only going 80 percent, you’re not going to get any respect or anything done.”

St. John has signed with Northwood University, where she is considering majoring in personal finance or sports management.

“I love a lot of business-related things,” she said.

Right now, her increased understanding of her role as point guard and the possibilities it presents is a key reason why the Highlanders have won 14 of their last 15 games after a 1-3 start.

“She’s understanding the bigger picture,” Olszewski said. “There’s a reason why that particular shot or action, even though it might seem small or trite right now, how it could have a massive effect on the outcome of a game. And I think she’s excelled in that this year, understanding those situations.”

And, he said, St. John has been much more communicative with her teammates in helping them understand.

“Maeve’s always had an excellent basketball IQ and could always read situations,” Olszewski said. “When we talk about her being a leader, it’s about calming things down as opposed to throwing kerosene on the fire. I’ve also noticed an increase in her keeping herself accountable. Many times this year, she’s said, ‘That’s on me, team.’ She’s stepped to the forefront, which is what leaders do. She’s done a great job harnessing that energy and knowing when to unleash it and when to bring it back in a little bit.”

For St. John, it’s not so much being the straw that stirs the drink as being the leader of a pack of Highlanders willing to follow her for as long as possible.

But not without a little whimsy. Late in that mid-February game against Brighton, she drove the lane into a group of Bulldogs and somehow drew a foul on a shot that was off the mark. As she emerged, she looked at Olszewski and grinned.

“It was a forced shot, more like, ‘Oooh I got lucky on that play,’” she said. “I felt like I got bailed out on that play, and I looked at him and we chuckled.”

Howell had the game well in hand at that point. What if the game had been close?

“He wouldn't have been smiling,” St. John said, then added with a grin, “I probably would have still done it.”

PHOTOS Howell’s Maeve St. John has shown she can do it all – drive to the basket, shoot from the perimeter and find the open teammate. (Photos by Dan Zeppa.)

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.