Canadian Women in International Sport The Edmonton Grads

When J. Percy Page started teaching physical education to girls at Edmonton’s McDougall Commercial High School in 1914, it was probably the least overwhelming assignment of his inexperienced career.

Believing girls possessed limited athletic ability, physical teachers at this time were primarily charged with controlling physical education through regular exercise drills.

In a motivated move, Page started teaching his students to play basketball, and they quickly formed a powerhouse team. Over the next twenty five years, their inspiring achievements carried crews of up to 6,500 loyal fans, remodeling What made the Edmonton Grads Special into a household name.

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/oS2eC4bko54″ autoplay=”yes” title=”Edmonton Grads vs. the Queen Anne Candies”]

From 1915 to 1940, the Edmonton Grads recorded 502 wins and only 20 losses, achieving competitive dominance ‘unparalleled in team sport’ in Canada.

Going unbeaten for entire seasons, they won as many as 147 consecutive games, captured 19 nationwide basketball titles, and won the Underwood North American championship title seventeen years in a row.

The Grads were crowned world champions after winning all 27 matches they played in exhibition competitions staged beside the Olympic Games held in Paris in 1924, Amsterdam in 1928, Los Angeles in 1932, and Berlin in 1936.

Disbanding when their practice equipment was taken over for military use during World War Two, the Grads were honored with permanent possession of the Underwood Trophy, evidence to their quarter-century of competitive excellence.

Although the Edmonton Grads experienced thrilling occasions to travel, members of the crew were never settled. Many went as teachers, bookkeepers, and stenographists, and performing with the team in their free time required meaningful dedication.

Under Percy Page’s guidance, the Grads competitive strategy was simple, featuring top-notch physical conditioning and mastery of fundamentals.

Foregoing restrictive ‘girl’s rules’, they achieved international dominance playing basketball by standard rules and won seven of nine games they played against men’s teams.

Balancing speed, skill, and strength with a superb reputation for teamwork, integrity, and sportsmanship, James Naismith, the Canadian inventor of basketball, called the Grads the “finest basketball team” ever to play the game, and their sterling record remains unrivaled in the history of Canadian sport.

photograph of Noel MacDonald in playing uniform
photograph of Noel MacDonald in playing uniform

 

 

J. Percy Page was the mentor for the Edmonton Grads everywhere their playing career. His coaching knowledge maintained the importance of physical conditioning, to play as a team, and to take the sport seriously. “You must play basketball, think basketball, and dream basketball”.

        • COLLECTION: CANADA’S SPORTS HALL OF FAME

The 1922 Edmonton Grads team were the first Canadian Women’s Basketball Champions, defeating the London Shamrocks in a two-game series. The Grads continued to dominate women’s basketball, playing games on outdoor and indoor courts, in all kinds of weather and under all conditions. Their commitment to their sport is represented in that they all revisited the double weekly exercises while owning down a full-time job.

        • COLLECTION: CANADA’S SPORTS HALL OF FAME
Underwood International Trophy on base with flags of Canada and the USA
Underwood International Trophy on base with flags of Canada and the USA

The Underwood International Trophy was donated by the Underwood Typewriter Company for international competition. The first tournament was held in 1923 and the Grads defeated their American rivals to win the trophy. As a team, they were known for their fair play and sportsmanship. Their coach J. Percy Page told them that if they could not win playing a clean game, they did not deserve to win.

        • COLLECTION: CANADA’S SPORTS HALL OF FAME

 

black and yellow Edmonton Grads basketball tunic with number 9
black and yellow Edmonton Grads basketball tunic with number 9

The sporting outfit in 1922 carried thick woolen nylons and swelling knee-length bloomers. After recognizing what other teams wore in the Grads assumed gold and black clothes. Club members were hired through a farm system, working their way up to a position on the Team and the coveted outfit. There was a very low turnover rate with only 38 athletes in the history of the club, indicating the commitment each player gave.

        • COLLECTION: CANADA’S SPORTS HALL OF FAME
Edmonton Grads tunic with maple leaf crest and CANADA on the front
Edmonton Grads tunic with maple leaf crest and CANADA on the front

The Edmonton Grads played in Europe as well as North America. In 1924 they played six games in combination with the Olympic Games and in Paris at the request of Fédération Sportive Feminine Internationale, who told them World Champions. They went on to play basketball as a presentation sport at the 1928, 1932, and 1936 Olympic Games. Women’s basketball did not suit an Olympic sport until 1976.

        • COLLECTION: CANADA’S SPORTS HALL OF FAME
toy horse mascot wearing blanket with Olympic crest
toy horse mascot wearing blanket with Olympic crest

The Grads’ mascot was a toy horse named after Sparkplug, a cartoon character from the 1920s. The mascot was a cherished member of the team and traveled with them in its own Canadian National railway car with the team name on it. His horse blanket has a crest from the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, the last international play for the Team.

        • COLLECTION: ROYAL ALBERTA MUSEUM, WESTERN CANADIAN HISTORY
photograph of Noel MacDonald in playing uniform
photograph of Noel MacDonald in playing uniform

Noel MacDonald was recruited for the feeder team of the Gradettes when she completed her Grade 12. She played with the organization for one-and-one-half years ere meeting the Grads for her rookie year in 1933. By the time she retired in 1939, she was the team leader and the all-time leading scorer with a percentage of 13.8 points per game. Considered Canada’s best female basketball athlete of her era, she showed her knowledge of community by maturing a trainer.

          • COLLECTION: CANADA’S SPORTS HALL OF FAME
typed tribute signed by James Naismith
typed tribute signed by James Naismith

Canadian Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of the game of basketball, regarded the Edmonton Grads as the best team to ever play the game. In this tribute, he recognizes them as a motivation and example to all women’s teams. The team was equally respected across Canada and internationally. They revealed that women could play a sport at the most leading level of competition.

        • COLLECTION: CANADA’S SPORTS HALL OF FAME

The Canadian Women’s Basketball Team got the gold medal at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. This was the first basketball gold reward for Canada in any larger worldwide Competition. This team, as with the Grads, encourage junior girls to take up the sport.

        • COLLECTION: THE CANADIAN PRESS/JASON FRANSON

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