Tri-unity Ends Historic Run in Quarters

March 16, 2016

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

WYOMING – When the month of March rolls around at Wyoming Tri-unity Christian High School, it’s traditionally been a time for the community to rally around the boys basketball team for a lengthy postseason run.

The boys team has been a perennial state powerhouse in Class D for the past 20 years, winning four MHSAA Finals (1996, 2002, 2006, 2011) and earning four runner-up finishes.  

This season, however, the girls basketball program enjoyed similar success with its own jaunt through the Class D tournament. 

The Defenders won their first MHSAA Regional title last week with a 58-46 win over Climax-Scotts, upping their winning streak to 13 games after an 8-4 start. Tri-unity’s historic campaign ended Tuesday night with a disappointing 71-30 loss to unbeaten Pittsford in a MHSAA Class D Quarterfinal.

"Our goal was to do this,” Tri-unity coach Bryan Sinner said. “This is my third year, and our goal coming in was to bring some respect to the girls’ side of the program and that’s what we’re doing. The boys are going on a run, and we’re on a run, and it’s been fantastic for the school, especially for these girls now.”

The Defenders finished with a 21-5 overall record, and the banner season was something they knew was possible at the start of the season.

“I knew we could go far as long as we worked together,” said senior guard Sarah Buffum, a four-year varsity player who averaged a team-high 17.5 points per game.

“We had the talent, but we just had to come together as a team. We knew we could do it, and winning Regionals was so special, especially since it was the first time in school history. It meant a lot.”

Tri-unity’s other senior, center Marissa Stevenson, said it was thrilling to become the first team to reach the Quarterfinals.

“It was exciting to be noticed and make history for our school,” she said. “I think we were all in a lot of shock when we won, but throughout the season we learned our team chemistry, and our defense really picked up in this tournament. I had so much confidence in our team.”

Said Sinner: “They felt pretty special after that win, and they worked extremely hard for it. It’s a true blessing that we were able to do that, and the support from our fans and community has been fantastic. It’s gone back and forth between the girls and the boys, and it’s really great for our small school.”

The Defenders received a wealth of encouragement from the boys during their journey.

“The boys were supporting us along the way, and that was exciting to see,” Stevenson said. “It was nice to have their support behind us, and we give them our support, too.”

Tri-unity’s squad consisted of only 10 players: six juniors and a pair of sophomores joined the lone seniors.

After enduring two one-point losses on buzzer-beaters early in the season, as well as double-digit losses to Fruitport Calvary Christian and Grand Rapids Covenant Christian, the Defenders began to find their groove.

They gained confidence with each victory and built momentum for the postseason.

“The middle of the season we started coming together and playing as a team,” Sinner said. “I could see some special things happening. There was this determination and this commitment to going out there and leaving it all on the floor. You could see it in their eyes.”

Junior guard Cierra Smith provided a spark for Tri-unity, as did 6-foot sophomore Elasia Craig, who averaged 12 rebounds a game and set a school record for blocked shots with 82.

A demanding schedule, which included games against Class A, B and C squads, also factored into the Defenders’ success.

“Playing those schools helped us prepare and get ready for these months,” Sinner said. “I don’t think we’ve done that in the past, but we’re trying to do that now. I would rather take my lumps during the season in order to prepare us for this time in the season.”

The future of the girls program remains bright with the graduation of only Buffum and Stevenson. An experienced core will be back and a group of younger players are waiting in the wings.

“I have five freshmen playing now, and seven eighth-graders and 13 seventh-graders who are coming to these games and seeing the excitement,” Sinner said. “Hopefully it keeps growing this way.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Sarah Buffum drives during Tuesday’s Quarterfinal loss to Pittsford. (Middle) Marissa Stevenson (42) works to get to the basket Tuesday. (Below) Elasia Craig provides plenty of hope for the future after setting a school record for blocked shots. (Photos by Chris Duzan.)

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.