#TBT: Redettes Bring Home Class A Title

March 31, 2016

The following tells the story of the 1976 Marquette girls basketball team, still the only Upper Peninsula team to win an MHSAA Class A girls basketball championship. This piece, by MHSAA historian Ron Pesch, served as the story behind the ceremony from a “Legends of the Games” program celebrating the Redettes.

If you never have dreams, they can never come true.

For coach Barb Crill and the girls basketball team from Marquette, the dream was to win an MHSAA basketball crown.

“Barb said to us as incoming freshmen that we would win the state,” said Karen Levandoski Helmila, recalling her days as a Redette.

The girls had come close early in Crill’s tenure. In three years, Crill's squads had compiled a 52-4 record, including a 16-2 mark in 1973, a 19-1 record in 1974 and 17 straight victories the following year.

In 1974, Grand Rapids Christian eliminated the Redettes in the Regional Final. In 1975, the team averaged 68 points a game to 25.9 for the opponents. In the MHSAA District Final, Marquette downed Sault Ste. Marie, 109-16, then brushed aside Portage Central, 72-18, in the Class A Quarterfinals. However, the voyage ended abruptly in the Semifinals with a loss to Farmington Our Lady of Mercy, 62-57.

The nucleus was in place for another run at the title in the fall of 1976. The team had lost all-U.P. players Jean Moratti and Laurie Niles, but had strong replacements. The Levandoski twins, Karen and Kay, Cheryl Aho, Janet Hopkins, Sue Belanger and Caron Krueger were all seniors, and Katie Miller, a senior transfer from Eau Claire, Wis., had joined the team. Forward Shelly Chapman, a junior, also had won all-U.P. honors. Sophomores Cynde Cory and Chris Moran were expected to be the first off the bench. Sue Micklow, Kate Jennings, Lisa Coombs, Mary Erspamer, Cathy Niles and Sue Lakanen rounded out the squad. Karen Meyers, the leading scorer on Northern Michigan University's basketball team and former Redette, was returning for her fifth year as Crill's assistant.

But time was running out for the squad to achieve their coach's prophecy.

“Over the years we had played every good team in the U.P.,” said Crill. “The girls needed more.”

So on Labor Day weekend, 1976, the Redettes prepared for a trip to Detroit – their coach's old stomping grounds. Crill had arranged scrimmages against some old friends in the Motor City; among them Detroit Dominican, coached by Sue Kruszewski and winner of the Class A title in 1973 and 1974, and Harper Woods Bishop Gallagher, which had made it to the Quarterfinals in 1973.

The Marquette squad responded to the challenge, playing well in the workouts.

“The girls came back in shape from summer vacation,” Crill told the media after the trip. “Most had done a lot of work on their own, while others stayed active playing other sports.”

A native of Allen Park, Crill had started coaching and teaching in Ann Arbor Public Schools in 1959. She instituted Marquette's girls program during the 1969-70 season. “We started here before there was any MHSAA (sanctioned) ball,” said Crill. “The girls provided their own uniforms. The principal, Paul Kotila, provided a bus and driver. We played everyone with a team. It promoted a lot of the interest.”

Back in the U.P., it was business as usual. In the home opener, Marquette trounced Gladstone, 71-19, as 14 girls saw time on the court. Next, they downed Negaunee, 87-21.

Through 17 additional regular-season games, the result was the same. Omitting a 2-0 forfeit by Harbor Springs, the Redettes improved their average from 1975 to 80.8 points per contest, while decreasing their opponents’ average to 25.2 per game.

The squad dumped Escanaba, 71-29, before a crowd of about 100 for the District title at Escanaba. Shelly Chapman led the team with a season-high 33 points. In Grand Rapids for the Regionals, the Big Red Machine defeat Benton Harbor, 64-55. Leading at the half by 25 points, Crill went to the bench. Again, Chapman led all scorers with 21 points, while Krueger added 16 and Hopkins added 13.

In the Regional Final, the Redettes faced a taller Grand Rapids Union squad. Despite the partisan Union crowd and a slim three-point lead at the end of the third quarter, Marquette pulled away for a 48-34 win.

With another victory in the bag, the Redettes congratulated one another in a familiar postgame scene during the 1976 championship run. True to her words, Crill and her Marquette cagers would have a season to remember and scrapbooks to compile following their impressive run to the MHSAA title. In the Quarterfinals, the team defeated Lansing Eastern, 67-37, then disposed of Flushing, 62-46, in the Semifinals. All that remained was a rematch with Farmington Our Lady of Mercy.

This time Marquette would not be denied, downing the reigning champs, 68-41. Chapman finished with 23, Hopkins poured in 19, and Krueger hit for 14 as Crill's starting five went the entire game without a substitution.

“I was impressed with the ladies’ positive attitude as we prepared for the championship game,” said Crill, reflecting on the matchup. “They seemed quiet, very determined, very patient with one another and quite business like. I had coached many games by the fall of 1976, but I never remember another game where we planned together what to do to win, and they followed our plan perfectly.”

The team was the first Class A school from Michigan's Upper Peninsula to win an MHSAA basketball championship, a feat that has not been repeated since.

“The strength that our team held through the entire game was so strong,” said Aho Reynolds. “That's the way I felt. The more baskets we made the more we wanted. The offense and defense combined everything that night.”

“The crowd was so large for the Final game,” recalled Levandoski Helmila. “There were thousands of people watching and it seemed like only 50 cheering for us. We were glad to face the team that knocked us out of the tournament the year before. We worked together for so long to reach our goal.”

“We wanted that victory not only for the members of the team, but for our coaches, parents and community,” echoed Levandoski Angeli. “We were not only a team, but a family. Our coaches made it clear and instilled in us that no individual was a star alone.”

“Wow! It was fun,” said Hopkins, “a great ending to four years of high school basketball. We dominated the game. We were the underdog, yet we were confident and played to our strengths. Each year I played, the team improved its skill level. In my senior year everything came together and we were unstoppable! Each team member contributed to the outcome, whether it was during practice, or a game. We were focused and determined to succeed.”

“Cheryl Aho's incredible defense stands out in my mind,” remembered Coombs Gerou. “She stopped one of the leading scorers in the state. Our team defense really stood out. “Everyone played, and on any given night someone off the bench would score as much as someone who started. We all treated each other with respect and worked together as a team. Coach Crill taught me that anything was possible if you worked and prepared for it.

“Another memory was our singing on the bus, even those of us who couldn't carry a tune.”

It was one of the longer bus rides that set the foundation for that championship year.

“I think that trip (to Detroit) was the biggest difference,” said Crill. “It gave them more experience playing the type of teams they would meet in the tournament. They could see they were talented enough. They had already played the best there was. They realized they could beat them again.”

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.