Young Bedford Emerges with Quarterfinal Run

March 18, 2019

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

TEMPERANCE – The timing of girls basketball season in Michigan was about to change, and Temperance-Bedford boys and girls basketball coach Bill Ryan knew he had a difficult choice.

It was about that time that 10 girls walked into his Bedford High School classroom and asked him to remain their basketball coach. It was a slam dunk decision.

“I have no regrets about that,” said Ryan, who will coach the Mules in Tuesday’s Division 1 Quarterfinal against Wayne Memorial after winning his second Regional championship last week. “None.”

Ryan has had a string of success coaching the Bedford girls, including a 25-1 team in 2008-09 and this year’s team that turned some heads in southeast Michigan by going 20-5 and reaching the Quarterfinals despite carrying just two seniors on its roster and being led in scoring and rebounding by freshmen.

“I knew we would be okay,” said Ryan. “But the Southeastern Conference is so strong. Saline had a real solid team, and Ann Arbor Pioneer is loaded. I knew we would be good, but I didn’t know what the wins and losses would look like.”

This is Ryan’s fourth run into the Quarterfinals. He was an assistant coach on two Bedford girls teams that made consecutive trips to the Class A Quarterfinals in the early 2000s. He was the Bedford boys varsity basketball coach from 2001 to 2007.

He spent three seasons coaching both varsity teams. When the seasons shifted beginning with 2007-08, however, that was no longer possible. That’s when the girls came to his classroom and said they wanted him to remain their coach and keep the program rolling.

Ryan, who played basketball at Bedford, is 244-101 as the Mules girls varsity coach. Combined with 72 victories in his seven boys seasons, he now has 316 wins at his alma mater.

“They just said, ‘Let’s stay together,’” Ryan said. “Several of the girls were sophomores at the time. They were a coach’s dream. If I was having an open gym or something all I would have to do is call one girl and they would all be there. It ended up being a good move for me.”

Ryan has made all the right moves from the sidelines of this Kicking Mules team. In addition to its tough SEC schedule, Ryan piled onto its slate a handful of high-quality teams from northwest Ohio to help the Mules get ready for not only the conference battles but the MHSAA Tournament. That is paying dividends now as Bedford has won 13 of its past 14 games.

“We had two really good games in the Region to advance,” Ryan said. “I think our District got us ready for those games.”

Bedford started the season blazing hot, winning its first five games, including two to claim the Southgate Holiday Tournament championship. That’s when the Mules hit a rough patch – dropping four of six games, including three SEC Red games. The Jan. 18 loss to Monroe was a turning point, Ryan said.

“We let a 10-point lead evaporate in the fourth quarter,” Ryan said. “Monroe is a big rival for us. That didn’t sit well with a lot of girls. There were no team meetings or anything like that, but they were aware.”

By then Ryan had also turned to 6-foot-2 freshman Sophia Gray and his 5-11 freshmen daughter, Grace Ryan, for more productivity. They responded in a big way. Grace leads the team in scoring at about 9.5 points a game. It’s a typical Ryan-coached team, however, where the girls seemingly take turns leading the team in scoring and several average around the 7-10 point mark.

“They could start for us, but I like the way things have worked out,” he said. “They come in about the 4-minute mark, sometimes the 2-minute mark, and they give us an immediate spark. Once they learned the nuances of our defense, I had no inhibitions about leaving them out there at key points of the game.”

Ryan and Gray both came into the season ready to play.

“They are friends, and they have played together all along,” Ryan said. “They have played some AAU and travel ball. They’ve played a lot of basketball, competitive basketball, against a lot of good competition. When they get to the varsity, they’ve played against a lot of great players already. They are not in awe of anyone. They were ready for the rigors of varsity basketball.”

The team has been balanced all season, but during the tournament run that sharing of the scoring wealth seems to have taken on even greater meaning.

In the Regional Semifinal win over Detroit Cass Tech, 6-1 sophomore Molly Koviak scored 14 points and Ryan 12. In the Regional Final win over Dearborn Heights Crestwood, junior Aubrie Zeunen and Savannah Killinen shared the team lead with 12 points each while junior Madison Norton and Ryan each scored 10 points.

Bedford’s two seniors are Selena Sandoval and Sarah Koviak, and both play important roles on the team. Killinen is a talented 5-7 sophomore.

“She has some swag about her that we really like,” Ryan said.

After the Regional championship, Killinen didn’t seem fazed by the fact the Mules were headed to the elite eight.

“It feels good, especially since we are a really young team,” she said. “This is what we’ve dreamed of – to see it come true is awesome,” she said.

The Kicking Mules will get its toughest test to date Tuesday against 23-2 Wayne Memorial, a team loaded with college signees and next-level prospects.

“It’s a win-win game for us,” Ryan said. “I wanted them to get a deep run into the tournament to get that experience. To win a Regional is just the cherry on top. But I wouldn’t put anything past our girls. They don’t cower to anyone, and I know they’ll be fighting to the end. We wear the underdog role pretty well.”

Doug 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.

PHOTO: Temperance Bedford girls basketball coach Bill Ryan talks things over with his players during a game this season. (Photo by Vanessa Ray.)

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.