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The Edmonton Grads

Photograph of The Edmonton Grads

(1915-1940)

Basketball

Source


The Edmonton Commercial Graduates Basketball Club, referred to simply as the Grads, were a women's basketball team founded and coached by John Percy Page for the period from 1915 to 1940. What started as a high-school team was later to become a sporting dynasty whose winning record remains unparalleled by any team in any sport. Truly champions, their success can be attributed not only to natural ability but also to strong leadership, dedication, sportsmanship and determination.

During their quarter-century of participation in women's basketball, the Grads compiled an astounding record of 502 wins and only 20 losses. After dominating at the city and provincial levels in their first eight years, they won their first Canadian title in 1923 against a team from London, Ontario. That same year, they participated in their first international competition against reigning American champions, the Cleveland Favorite-Knits. Interestingly, the American team wore the words "World Champs" on their trim shorts. The Grads took to the court in "their usual heavy woolen stockings, knobby knee-pads, voluminous knee-length bloomers (made of three yards of British serge)" and defeated the Favorite-Knits with a two-game combined score of 53-33, to capture the Underwood Trophy. (Edmonton, Portrait of a City, p. 161) For 17 years, from 1923 to 1940, the basketball fans of North America never saw the Grads relinquish the trophy. On their 25th anniversary, the team was presented with the trophy as a permanent possession. In addition to their North American successes, the Grads represented Canada at four consecutive Olympic games from 1924 to 1936. They won all 27 of their Olympic matches, but because women's basketball was not yet an official event, there were no medals awarded.

When trying to determine why the Grads were so dominant in their sport, it becomes apparent that Percy Page himself played a large role. He was responsible for forming the team of students and graduates of McDougall Commercial High School of which he was the principal. Throughout its life, the team was recruited from this source. Page and his assistant, Bill Tate, also developed a McDougall School "farm system" whereby girls developed their skills through working their way up through three teams, the third one being the Gradettes (who could be either students or graduates), finally joining the Grads when there was an opening. Page either coached or supervised all these teams, so every player who ever wore the black-and-gold uniform of the Grads had been assessed by him from her earliest playing days.

Page certainly set very high standards for himself and his team, and his dedication was unwavering. For 25 years the Grads practiced twice a week, except for the summer months. In this time, Page missed only three practices while campaigning for a seat in the Alberta legislature. (Page later sat as a Conservative member of the Alberta house from 1952 to 1959, and from 1959 to 1966 was lieutenant-governor of the province). "You must play basketball, think basketball and dream basketball," he would tell his players. [Canadian Magazine, March 8, 1975] His commitment to the team was reflected in the amazingly low turnover rate of the team's roster. There were only 38 players in the history of the club.

While winning is an obvious requirement for a sports champion, the Grads, in their pursuit of excellence earned respect also for their fair play and sportsmanship. In a recent Globe and Mail obituary following the death of former Grad member, Mae Webb, her daughter June commented, "One thing I remember my mom saying - and I was in sports - was that Mr. Page used to say: 'You're ladies first and basketball players second and if you can't win playing a clean game you don't deserve to win.'" (Globe and Mail, April 14, 2000, p. R8) The Grads followed this advice and consequently silenced the critics who claimed that strenuous activity could be harmful to women.

The importance of this team did not go by unnoticed by the inventor of basketball, Dr. James Naismith. In a letter to the Grads in 1936 he made this clear in saying, "You are not only an inspiration to basketball players throughout the world, but a model of all girls' teams. Your attitude and success have been a source of gratification to me in illustrating the possibilities of the game in the development of the highest type of womanhood."

Resources

Cochrane, Jean ; Hoffman, Abby ; Kincaid, Pat. - Women in Canadian sports. - Toronto : Fitzhenry & Whiteside, c1977. - 96 p.

Dewar, John. - "The Edmonton Grads : the team and its social significance from 1915-1940". - Her story in sport : a historical anthology of women in sports. - West Point, N.Y. : Leisure Press, 1982. - P. 541-547

Wamsley, Kevin B. - "Power and privilege in historiography : constructing Percy Page". - Sport history review. - Vol. 28, no. 2 (1997). - P. 146-155

Wise, S.F. ; Fisher, Douglas. - Canada's sporting heroes. - Don Mills, Ont. : General Publishing Co., 1974. - 338 p.

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