Delonda Little Started on an Unexpected Journey that Led to Historic Achievements

As Women’s History Month winds down, it’s a time to celebrate the monumental strides women have made across all facets of life, while also acknowledging the ongoing journey toward equality and representation.

This month shines a spotlight on the courage, resilience, and unwavering spirit of women who have broken barriers and redefined what is possible. Among these trailblazers, Black women have played a pivotal role, their achievements carving out spaces where future generations can see themselves reflected in every level of professional and public life. Their contributions, often made in the face of systemic challenges, underscore the importance of diversity and the richness it brings to our collective history and future.

Here in Detroit, Delonda Little has become a significant figure in the annals of sports history through her roles as a basketball official for both the NCAA and the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA). She extends her influence beyond the court as an association leader for the MHSAA and spearheads the Motor City Area Official Association in Michigan, serving as both president and founder. Her contributions to the sport and her community have also earned her a prestigious place in the Wayne State University Hall of Fame, further cementing her legacy in the realm of athletics.

“My story is very unique,” Little admitted. “I was originally a softball and volleyball player; I started playing those two sports when I was 10. I didn’t start playing basketball until my senior year at Detroit Osborne High School.”

Little’s leap into the world of basketball was serendipitous, a testament to the unexpected turns life can take. With no initial interest in the sport, her journey into basketball underscores the beauty of divine timing and the impact of encouragement from unexpected sources.

“Somebody just, out the blue, asked me about playing basketball,” she recalled. The idea was foreign to her, having never engaged with the sport in any capacity before. “I didn’t want to play. I never played. I never even picked up a basketball,” she expressed, highlighting her detachment from the game that would later define much of her career.

The pivotal moment came when the father of a friend saw potential in her athletic prowess, despite her inexperience. “I had a friend of mine whose father kind of worked with her one on one, and he was like, hey, let me just show you a few things. I think you could pick it up. You’re an athlete and you play volleyball pretty well,” he offered, seeing beyond her immediate skills to what she could become. Through daily practice and guidance, Delonda began to grasp the fundamentals of basketball, although by her own admission, she wasn’t on par with seasoned players.

“At that time, I had many offers for volleyball, I was an all-state volleyball player. And then my commitment was to Tennessee State University, so that’s where I was going,” she recalled, outlining a future that seemed set in stone. However, her plans took an unexpected turn due to family circumstances. “At that time, my grandmother kind of had some type of illness, and I couldn’t go to school that year. So, when I was staying with her, I said, ‘okay, I’ll take care of her.’” This pivotal decision led her to spend a summer closer to home, during which she would visit her friend at Wayne State, the same friend whose father had first introduced her to basketball.

Her friend had secured a scholarship to play ball at Wayne State and gave Little the nudge to get into the sport on a collegiate level, “So, I literally go and play pickup with them at Wayne State. And I went two days in a row, and the next thing I know, the coach is calling me in the office, like, hey, we saw you playing pickup. We want to offer you a scholarship.” This unexpected offer marked the beginning of an entirely new chapter in Little’s athletic career.

Fast forward decades later, Little stands under the bright lights of a packed gymnasium, where the echoes of cheering fans blend with the rhythmic dribbling of a basketball, her presence on the court is more than just about calling fouls and starts. Her journey to this moment, a crescendo of dedication and barrier-breaking achievements, has reshaped the landscape of Michigan high school basketball. It all began in 2005 when she was inducted into Wayne State University’s Hall of Fame pushing her to a historic moment in 2015, when Little first shattered expectations by becoming the first woman to officiate a Public School League title game, setting the stage for a career defined by firsts and forging paths for others to follow.

Little’s impact extended beyond the hardwood floors of basketball courts to the grassy fields of football stadiums. On a memorable day in September of the previous year, she joined forces with Caryn Jackson, Nicole Randolph, RanDee Henry, and Kamaria Douglas to form an all-female officiating crew for a varsity football game between Waterford Kettering and Detroit Lincoln-King at Detroit Mercy. This momentous occasion, highlighted by the Michigan High School Athletic Association, marked a pioneering event in Michigan’s sports history, showcasing an all-women team in charge of a varsity football match.

Now in the prime of her life, Delonda Little has reached yet another milestone by being the first woman since 1995 to officiate a boy’s state championship basketball game. The Michigan High School Athletic Association’s practice of keeping the identities of state finals referees confidential until game day added an element of surprise to Little’s historic appointment.

This achievement is not just a reflection of her remarkable dedication but also of the refined skills she has developed throughout her enduring involvement in sports. In addition, Little has recently embraced another significant achievement where she has become a member of a prestigious Black Greek sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated in December of 2023. Her story, rich with triumphs, is deeply interwoven with the challenges she faced from a young age, including her parents’ struggles with drug addiction, her life with her grandmother, and assuming the role of her caregiver.

Reflecting on these experiences, Little said, “I didn’t really have anybody that I could look up to. But I always was a person who was very humble and didn’t mind sharing where I came from because my story of where I came from made me who I am today.” These words encapsulate her resilience and the profound impact of her past on shaping her present and future.

With over two decades of experience, including officiating at the college women’s games level, Little’s journey to becoming a respected official was sparked by Lenny Memminger, a well-regarded figure in the officiating community who saw potential in her background as a former player. Under the mentorship of Mike Smith, Little refined her officiating prowess, becoming a formidable presence on the court.

Juggling a demanding schedule that includes multiple games a week, Little also excels in her day job as a parole supervisor for the Department of Corrections in metro Detroit. Her extraordinary dedication and pursuit of excellence serve as an inspiration to women and women of color aiming to overcome obstacles and achieve greatness in sports officiating.

Delonda Little’s story is a powerful narrative of persistence, skill, and the courage to challenge traditional boundaries. Through her historic achievements, Little has laid a foundation for future generations of women in basketball officiating, proving that with determination and hard work, the possibilities are boundless.

In the realm of high school sports, an arena often dominated by traditional norms, Black women like Little are redefining the landscape of refereeing, showcasing that leadership and expertise know no gender or color. Little’s journey to officiating at significant games, breaking longstanding norms, and becoming a beacon for aspiring referees, especially women and women of color, encapsulates the spirit of Women’s History Month. Her story is a testament to the fact that with determination and the right support, women can not only enter but excel and lead in areas previously inaccessible to them. It’s a reminder that the path toward equality requires the courage to challenge the status quo and the vision to pave new ways, ensuring that the next generation of women, irrespective of their background, have more doors open to them than ever before.

“If you have the opportunity to choose a woman, why not a woman?” posed Little. “Women are really the game changers. We are really the minds behind a lot of things that happen, and we don’t always get the credit for it. So, I feel like we should be acknowledged every day because we do so much.”




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