The Edmonton Grads were a women’s basketball team in Canada who dominated their sport and paved the way for women in athletics, holding one of the best winning percentages that North American teams have ever seen.
The Edmonton Grads were honored with a Google Doodle in both Canada and the United States on November 9, 2019. “Today’s Doodle celebrates The Grads’ induction into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame on this day in 2017,” Google wrote. “It was a fitting honor for a team that holds arguably one of the best winning percentages in North America—approximately 95 percent over 25 years—in any sport.”
Canadian James Naismith, who started the game of basketball in 1891, once called the Grads “the finest basketball team that ever stepped out on a floor.”
The Globe and Mail once called the Edmonton Grads “basketball’s version of ‘A League of Their Own,’ only better, a group of trail-blazing women who utterly dominated their sport for a quarter of a century.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Edmonton Grads Started as a High School Girls Basketball Team
The full name of the Edmonton Grads is the Edmonton Commercial Graduates Basketball Club, also called “The Grads.” According to Google, the team “started as a high school girls basketball team and became a sports dynasty.” The players on the first team were Nellie Batson, Ella Osborne, Ethel Anderson, Mary Bremner, Geraldine Reid and Iola Mitchell, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia.
The Grads are credited with shattering stereotypes about women’s capabilities in sports, and Google reports, they are known for their “outstanding sportsmanship and determination.”
The team was started by a teacher named Percy Page in 1914 “as a physical education program for the 60 girls at McDougall Commercial High School in the Canadian city of Edmonton,” Google reported.
Page later became Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. “You must play basketball, think basketball and dream basketball,” he told his players, according to CBC.
2. The Last Surviving Member Died in 2018 & an Author Described Them as a ‘Group of Ordinary Women Who Did the Extraordinary’
The last surviving member of the Edmonton Grads was Kay MacBeth. She died in 2018 at the age of 96, according to Globe and Mail.
“It’s really an end of an era,” her granddaughter Christin Carmichael Greb said to the newspaper. “It was like the movie, it was the same sort of thing for basketball, there were these women who were amazing athletes that we don’t always hear about.”
Ann Hall wrote a book about the Edmonton Grads called “The Grads Are Playing Tonight!” She told CBC: “They were a group of ordinary women who did the extraordinary. They were clerks and salesgals and typists. They had to work the whole time they were practicing and playing.”
3. The Edmonton Grads Dominated Their Sport, Sometimes Playing Men’s Teams But World War II Intervened
According to Globe and Mail, the Grads were known as Canada’s “most successful team in history,” winning 17 world titles. Their record from 1915 to 1940 was 502-20. However, they stopped playing in 1940 “due to demands of the war and falling attendance.”
They won 7 of the 9 games they played against men’s teams, Globe and Mail reported. CBC reported that, in laster years, many Canadians had not heard of the Grads, who also stopped playing because of World War II. Back then, they also toured Europe.
Altogether, 38 women played for the Grads, the Canadian Encyclopedia reports.
4. The Grads Paved the Way for Women in Sport But They Faced Discrimination at the Time
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the 1920s were a golden era for women in sports in Canada. That doesn’t mean the Edmonton Grads didn’t face difficulties.
Naismith referred to the “highest type of womanhood” when talking about them, and Page emphasized that they needed to remain ladylike, the site reports. Some Canadians didn’t like the idea of women playing sports.
However, Naismith said of the Grads: “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.”
5. The Team Owed Its Success to Practices, Low Turnover, a Farm Team System & Page
According to Library and Archives of Canada, the Grads were extremely determined and made practices without fail.
For 25 years, the site reports, the Grads “practiced twice a week, except for the summer months” and Page only missed three practices in all that time because he started a political campaign. There was almost no turnover on the team, which was another reason for their great success.
Page also developed a “McDougall School farm system” to replenish the team. When one of the team members Mae Webb died, her daughter June commented, according to Library and Archives: “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.'”
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