|This article relies on references to primary sources. (December 2011)|
The Edmonton Grads were a Canadian women's basketball team. While long disbanded, the team continues to hold the North American record for the sports team with the best winning percentage of all time. The Grads won the first women's world title in basketball in 1924.
In 1912, J. Percy Page moved from Ontario to Edmonton, Alberta. Page took charge of Commercial Classes at new McDougall High School. His teaching assistant Ernest Hyde coached the boys team, while Page coached the girls team. In their first year, the club won a local high school tournament. The following year, the team were provincial champions of Alberta.
The 1914-15 senior girls basketball team of McDougall Commercial High School in Edmonton, Alberta won the Alberta High School Provincial championship. Upon graduation, the team asked their high school coach J. Percy Page (later the Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta) if he would coach them if they continued to compete. Formally named Commercial Graduates Basketball Club the team soon became known informally as the Edmonton Grads.
On May 12, 1922, the Grads played the London (Ontario) Shamrocks to determine the first Dominion of Canada’s women’s basketball championships. The first game was played with Canadian girls rules (six players on the courts), while the second game was played with Canadian boys rules (five players on the court). The Grads won the first game by a score of 41-8, while the Grads lost the second game by a score of 21-8. By a cumulative score, the Grads won 49-29, and were awarded the championship.
The roster of this team included:
- Dorothy and Daisy Johnson
- Noel Robertson
- Winnie Martin
- Eleanor Mountifield
- Nellie Perry
- Connie Smith
- J. Percy Page (Head coach)
The team compiled a record of about 502 wins and some 20 losses between 1915 and 1940. The Grads won their first Canadian title in 1922 by defeating the Shamrocks from London, Ontario. The next year the Grads competed for the Underwood Trophy (provided by the Underwood Typewriter Company), their first international competition. The Grads faced the Cleveland Favorite-Knits, who were the reigning American (and world) champions. The Grads defeated the Favorite-Knits in a two game combined score match, 55 to 33. The Grads never relinquished the Canadian Championship and only relinquished the Underwood Trophy once until the team disbanded in 1940.
In addition to dominating their sport in North America, the Grads also took on the best teams in Europe, ultimately defeating challengers in Paris, London, Amsterdam and Berlin. The Grads swept four consecutive Olympic Games from 1924 to 1936, winning all 27 Olympic matches they played and out scoring their opponents 1863 to 297. This achievement was unrecognized on the medal podium as women's basketball did not become an official Olympic sport until the 1976 summer games in Montreal.
Page's coaching philosophy emphasized the importance of physical conditioning and prohibited any performance-inhibiting activities such as smoking and drinking. As a result, his players often outlasted their exhausted opponents in particularly grueling matches. Page trained his girls to play as a unit and, above all, to take their sport seriously. "You must play basketball, think basketball and dream basketball," was his adage. Players were not allowed to marry. The reward for the unpaid players came through a chance to travel and see the world, a rare opportunity for single, unmarried women during the Depression. As a consequence the Grads were perennial provincial, national and continental champions.
Page tried to find suitable competition for the Grads but the problem was that women's clubs in different parts of the country played under different rules. By 1940, the Edmonton Arena, home of the Grads, was taken over by the Royal Canadian Air Force.
The Grads disbanded in 1940 after the outbreak of the Second World War. At that time, the team held 108 local, provincial, national and international titles and had been the undisputed world champions for 17 years in a row. Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, called the Grads the "finest basketball team that ever stepped out on a floor."(Hall, p. x)
- In 1976 the Grads' successes were declared a National Historic Event.
- Parks Canada dedicated a plaque in their honour in 1978.
- The Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame inducted the entire team roster of players in 1980.
- There was a film made in 1987 by the National Film Board of Canada called "Shooting Stars: The Amazing Story Of The Edmonton Grads."
- The Grads National Basketball Championship in 1932 was essential to the Edmonton Rustlers women's hockey team to gain support to travel East and play the Preston Rivulettes for the National Hockey title.
- Immodest and Sensational: 150 Years of Canadian Women in Sport, M. Ann Hall, p.89, James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Toronto, 2008, ISBN 978-1-55277-021-4
- Immodest and Sensational: 150 Years of Canadian Women in Sport, M. Ann Hall, p.28, James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Toronto, 2008, ISBN 978-1-55277-021-4
- Immodest and Sensational: 150 Years of Canadian Women in Sport, M. Ann Hall, p.31, James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Toronto, 2008, ISBN 978-1-55277-021-4
- M. Ann Hall, The Grads Are Playing Tonight: The Story of the Edmonton Commercial Graduates Basketball Team. Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta, 2011, p. 193.
- M. Ann Hall, The Grads Are Playing Tonight: The Story of the Edmonton Commercial Graduates Basketball Team. Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta, 2011, p. 189.
- Immodest and Sensational: 150 Years of Canadian Women in Sport, M. Ann Hall, p.47, James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Toronto, 2008, ISBN 978-1-55277-021-4
- Immodest and Sensational: 150 Years of Canadian Women in Sport, M. Ann Hall, p.50, James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Toronto, 2008, ISBN 978-1-55277-021-4
- Women on Ice: The Early Years of Women's Hockey in Western Canada, Wayne Norton, p.142, Ronsdale Press, 2009, ISBN 978-1-55380-073-6
- Hall, M. Ann (2011). The Grads are playing tonight! : the story of the Edmonton Commercial Graduates Basketball Club. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press. ISBN 9780888646026.