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Edmonton Grads


When J. Percy Page began teaching physical education to girls at Edmonton's McDougall Commercial High School in 1914, it was probably the least thrilling assignment of his young career. Believing girls possessed limited athletic ability, physical educators at this time were primarily charged with supervising physical education through dull exercise drills. In an inspired move, Page began teaching his students to play basketball, and they quickly formed a powerhouse team. Over the next twenty-five years their exhilarating performances drew crowds of up to 6,500 ardent fans, transforming the Edmonton Grads into a household name.

From 1915 to 1940, the Edmonton Grads recorded 502 wins and only 20 losses, achieving competitive dominance 'unparalleled in team sport' in Canada. Going undefeated for entire seasons, they won as many as 147 consecutive games, captured 19 national 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 tournaments staged alongside the Olympic Games held in Paris in 1924, Amsterdam in 1928, Los Angeles in 1932 and Berlin in 1936. Disbanding when their practice facilities were taken over for military use during World War Two, the Grads were honoured with permanent possession of the Underwood Trophy, a testament to their quarter-century of competitive excellence.

Although the Edmonton Grads enjoyed exciting opportunities to travel, members of the team were never paid. Many worked as teachers, bookkeepers and stenographers, and playing with the team in their free time required considerable dedication. Under Percy Page's guidance, the Grads competitive strategy was simple, emphasizing 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 unrivalled in the history of Canadian sport.

photograph of J. Percy Page wearing white sweater with crest
J. Percy Page was the coach for the Edmonton Grads throughout their playing career. His coaching philosophy emphasized 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

photograph of team of six women and Percy Page
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 dedication to their sport is exemplified in that they all attended the twice weekly practices while holding down a full-time job.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

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
The playing uniform in 1922 included heavy woolen stockings and voluminous knee-length bloomers. After seeing what other teams wore in the Grads adopted a gold and black uniform. Team members were recruited through a farm system, working their way up to a place on the Team and the coveted uniform. There was a very low turnover rate with only 38 players in the history of the club, testifying to the commitment each player gave.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

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 conjunction with the Olympic Games and in Paris at the invitation of Fédération Sportive Feminine Internationale, who declared them World Champions. They went on to play basketball as a demonstration sport at the 1928, 1932 and 1936 Olympic Games. Women's basketball did not become an Olympic sport until 1976.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

toy horse mascot wearing blanket with Olympic crest
The Grads' mascot was a toy horse named after Sparkplug, a cartoon character from the 1920's. The mascot was a cherished member of the team and travelled 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
Noel MacDonald was recruited for the feeder team the Gradettes when she completed her Grade 12. She played with the team for one-and-one-half years before joining the Grads for her rookie year in 1933. By the time she retired in 1939 she was the team captain and the all-time leading scorer with an average of 13.8 points per game. Regarded as Canada's best female basketball player of her era, she showed her sense of community by becoming a coach.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

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 acknowledges them as an inspiration and model to all women's teams. The team was equally respected across Canada and internationally. They showed that women could play a sport at the highest level of competition.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

photograph of Canadian women's basketball team celebrating victory
The Canadian Women's Basketball Team won the gold medal at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. This was the first basketball gold medal for Canada in any major international Games. This team, as with the Grads, inspire young girls to take up the sport.
Collection: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

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