'Ultimate Competitor' Collins Catalyzing Blissfield's Championship Pursuit

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

March 7, 2023

BLISSFIELD – Avery Collins has played with a broken nose, ankle sprain and a sore back. 

Southeast & BorderEarlier this season, the Blissfield junior was in the emergency room one night and on the basketball floor the next day. 

“She texted me first thing in the morning and said, ‘I’m ready to play Coach,’” said Royals head coach Ryan Gilbert. “I said, ‘No, you’re not.’ She was cleared to play, so she played. It’s hard to tell her no.” 

Collins is the catalyst behind Blissfield’s 23-1 record heading into tonight’s Division 3 Regional Semifinal against Hanover-Horton at Concord. Already a three-year starter, Collins is a ballhawk on defense, expert dribbler on offense and a competitor all the way. 

“I’m constantly talking basketball with people, either my dad, my coach, or even family friends,” Collins said. “I want to make this season so memorable and with the team we have, I knew it was possible.” 

When it comes to intensity, Collins has an extra gear. Opposing coaches quickly recognize that. 

“Avery is hands down the best player on the court night-in and night-out,” said Onsted head coach Brandon Arnold. “She’s tough. She does so many things for them.” 

Blissfield started the season 7-0 before being tripped up by Grand Blanc in the Motor City Roundball Classic. The Royals haven’t lost since, running off 16 straight wins, including in the District championship game Saturday.  

Defense has been the key.  

Opponents are averaging just 26.5 points a game against the Royals. Seven opponents have scored 21 or fewer points. 

Offensively, Blissfield averages four 3-pointers a game, shoots 60 percent from the free throw line and has four players with at least 150 points on the season. 

Collins averages 11.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 4.0 steals a game. She’s sat out several fourth quarters this season as the Royals have had big leads. In the District Semifinal against Erie Mason, she didn’t see the court in the second half.  

Collins gets to the basket; she’s averaging 11 points per game.Gilbert said she sits out more fourth quarters than she would like, but she also knows it makes the team stronger the more experience others get. 

“What you wouldn't know if you don't come watch her play is how her energy transfers to the rest of the team and the crowd,” Gilbert said. “Her grit and determination rubs off on everyone around her. I can’t tell you how many times the opponent turns it over because of her defensive pressure. She has pieces around her. She doesn't have to score 20 a game for this team to be successful. She could, but she doesn't have to.” 

If the game is close, the ball is in her hands. She shoots 70 percent from the free throw line and has become quite adept at dribbling away from opponents so they can’t foul her with the clock winding down. 

“She has the ability to change a game without scoring,” Gilbert said. 

Collins missed her AAU season this past summer due to a collarbone injury sustained during soccer season. She missed the early part of soccer with a broken nose that happened in basketball, although she never missed time on the court for it. 

The downtime, she said, helped keep her motivated when she was able to get a ball in her hands again. 

“I was extra ready to get back,” she said. “We all knew what this team could have in store this season, and that made me want to get better even more.” 

Collins put in a lot of work to get ready for this season. Her shooting has improved. She’s made 22 triples, but the bulk of her points come on steals and layups. 

“Before the season, my dad and I were doing a strength and conditioning workout almost every night, then after the workout, I’d go shoot at least 500 shots in the gym,” she said. “My dad has pushed me to be the best me that I can be. I’m always looking to put the work in to be better, because not only does it make me better, but it also helps my team as well.”

The Royals have just two seniors, 6-footers Julia White (10.0 points and 10.0 rebounds a game) and Sarah Bettis, a Division 1 volleyball signee with the University of Akron. June Miller leads the team in 3-pointers with 32, and Abrie Louden has been steady all season at both ends of the floor. Freshman Leigh Wyman and sophomore Peyton Tennant have come off the bench all season, ready to provide a spark, especially on defense. The combination has the Royals tied for the lead in Division 3 with 23 wins and ranked No. 3 in the final Associated Press poll.  

“Coming into this season, we knew we’d have a real shot at getting the league title,” Collins said. “I believe we will carry this energy as far as we get because of what our possible outcomes are in the state tournament.” 

The Royals play well together. They average about 19 field goals made a game – and 14 assists. 

Gilbert, in his 15th season as Blissfield coach, calls Collins the ultimate competitor. 

“She has a fiery chip on her shoulder,” he said. “She plays her best during the biggest of games. There is an edge about her that few have. She's just wired differently.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Blissfield’s Avery Collins directs her team’s offense this season against Adrian Lenawee Christian. (Middle) Collins gets to the basket; she’s averaging 11 points per game. (Photos by Deloris Clark-Osborne.)

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.