Time Still Now for Reigning Champ

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

February 28, 2018

DETROIT – Twelve months ago Detroit Edison was considered an up-and-coming program.

With all underclassmen in the starting lineup, any success the Pioneers would achieve during the 2017 MHSAA Tournament would be considered a bonus and a building block for this season.

Success for coach Monique Brown and her team arrived sooner than most predicted. Edison won the Class C title, the school’s first. And at that time, a repeat, possibly even a three-peat, was in the back of the minds of most who watched Edison’s tournament run.

Not only is Edison favored to repeat as champion in three weeks, there are many who say this team could be the state’s best regardless of class. One glance at the Pioneers’ schedule and results this season, and it’s easy to understand why.

Edison was 17-1 during the regular season with its only loss to Ypsilanti Arbor Prep, the Class B runner-up last season and considered one of the top teams in Class C this winter. The Pioneers moved to 18-1 with their District win over Detroit Cristo Rey on Wednesday.

As an independent, Edison played a variety of teams and some of the best including reigning Class B champion Detroit Country Day and Class A elite Ann Arbor Huron, Saginaw Heritage and Wayne Memorial to name a few.

Brown stopped short of saying this team is better than her team last season, and wisely so. Until this team wins another Class C title, one can rest assured Brown won’t make that claim.

“I’ve been pleased with the growth and maturity they’ve shown,” Brown said. “They’ve grown up. Just the patience they’ve shown has been great. We’ve had some games this season that have gone to overtime, where we’ve been down late and have come back. In these situations last season we would have lost by 12 points or so.”

The most recent game where Edison trailed late before coming back to win played out at Heritage on Feb. 20. The Hawks (20-1), considered top contenders for the Class A title, entered the contest undefeated and coming off an impressive 59-49 victory at Country Day just three days earlier.

Edison trailed Heritage by five points with less than a minute to play and came back to win, 57-55, in double overtime.

“That was the best crowd we’ve ever had to face,” Brown said. “When we played Blissfield in the tournament last season, they brought a lot of fans but they were back, up in the stands. Heritage fans were so close to the floor. They were so close they could touch the players. Their student section was packed.”

Edison has star power in 6-foot-3 junior Rickea Jackson and 5-10 sophomore Gabrielle Elliott, both considered among the top players in their respective classes. But more than that, Edison has exceptional depth.

At the point is freshman sensation Damiya Hagemann. Sophomore Shaulana Wagner, who shared time at the point with Daija Tyson last season, is again sharing time at the point but this time with Hagemann. Tyson, a sophomore, recovered well after suffering a knee injury last season and is more at home on the wing.

Brown has two seniors, Ashley Primas and Oretha Humphries. This is Humphries’ fourth season in the program. And Primas, though not a prolific scorer, is the type of player every good program needs. Whatever is asked of her, she’ll do – she’s the player who will dive for loose balls, set screens and defend players on the wing and in the post.

“Both are quiet, almost like freshmen,” Brown said of her seniors. “Leadership? You get that from Jackson. During a timeout, she’ll get them going.

“Even during practice she’s a leader. At one practice, there was one of our of post players she wasn’t happy with. She texted her and said that she wasn’t working hard enough. I didn’t even know she did that. She’s matured so much. Last year I called her our “sophomore-senior,” but she didn’t know how to lead. Me not throwing that on her this year, she’s stepped into that role.”

Brown has received more consistent play from her reserves, especially since the loss to Arbor Prep on Jan. 11 Brown said her players weren’t as focused for that game as they need to be and got ahead of themselves, perhaps a bit too overconfident.

“That loss helped,” she said. “That’s why we were able to win other games later in the season. We trailed Arbor Prep the whole game and came back to tie it, and then relaxed.”

Brown knew she could count on players like Jackson, Elliott and Hagemann. But throughout the season others have emerged to contribute. Keiarra Jennings played sparingly as a freshman last season and has gradually earned more playing time. It was Jennings’ 3-pointer that sent the game against Heritage into overtime.

“Sometimes she’s too aggressive,” Brown said. “I’ll have to take her out and tell her to slow down. You wouldn’t believe how she’s progressed from last year. She’s a threat coming off the bench. She doesn’t play a whole lot of minutes, maybe 10 in a game, but she can get you seven quick points.”

Edison is a team where every player has accepted her role and is working toward the same goal, from seniors like Primas to freshman like Hagemann.

“It’s not that were better than last year,” Primas said. “We’re more mature. Mentally, we’re tougher this year. It’s the experience. We were in so many games last year where we were down late and would lose.

“There is a difference between last year and now. Last year we didn’t know what to expect. Our mindset this year is to dominate every game. We realize our roles. We have so many players and if one isn’t on their A game, we know we can step up and fill that void.”

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) This season’s Detroit Edison team, off to an 18-1 start as it pursues a second straight Class C title. (Middle) Gabrielle Elliott readies for a pass during a scrimmage. (Photos courtesy of the Detroit Edison girls basketball program.)

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.