In fifteen years, the Edmonton Grads have played 308 basketball games—and won 301 of them
FREDERICK B. WATTJanuary151929
They’re World Champions
In fifteen years, the Edmonton Grads have played 308 basketball games—and won 301 of them
FREDERICK B. WATT
IN 1914, J. Percy Page, principal of the Commercial High School in Edmonton, began to begrudge the breaking up of basketball teams turned out under his direction. Mr. Page was a basketball enthusiast and had formed a habit of producing winning school teams. So the first women’s Commercial Graduates club was formed, composed of outstanding members of former school lineups. In 1915, they won the Alberta championship on the formation of the provincial league, and they have won it every year since then.
With monotonous regularity the Grads, as they came to be known generally, knocked over everything that came their way.
Dominion championships for women’s basketball were unknown at that time and, as the eastern title was held in London in 1922, the first year that the Edmontonians cast their eyes toward a Canadian crown, it appeared that this unsatisfactory state of affairs was to continue indefinitely. The Shamrocks of London could offer no financial guarantee, and a little known aggregation had scant hope of raising funds in a home town that was heavily supporting other sports. But the girls were keen about that Dominion playoff.
Finally, with a little outside assistance, they dug down into their own pockets, made the long trip east and won the title.
They’ve held it ever since.
In 1924 came an even greater ambition. The world’s title had been claimed by a United States team, but the Grads, even after whipping these claimants, were not satisfied that they were entitled to the honor with the sport flourishing in Europe and the Strasbourg team claiming the championship on that side of the world. So they went to the now healthy club funds, sailed to Europe, showed the leading exponents of the game— including Strasbourg — how basketball should be played, and came home with the world’s championship.
They still hold it, having defended the honor at Paris at the same time that Canada’s 1928 Olympic team was covering itself with glory at Amsterdam.
The Grads are known throughout Canada, though they have received nothing like the publicity they deserve. Financed only by themselves and publicspirited citizens of Edmonton, they traveled Europe last summer from Luxembourg to Italy, and defeated the picked teams of the continent by overwhelming scores. Yet, despite the presence on that side the water of numerous newspaper correspondents attending the Olympic games, the only word of the Grads’ doings came by way of private cables to Edmonton, the import of which was finally relayed to the Dominion at large. No complaint was heard from members of the team, but the fact remains that as remarkable a collection of athletes as ever represented Canada in any sport were allowed to go their way practically ignored by their own country.
Before the make-up of the team is considered, let the statistics tell the story of what this unusual outfit has accomplished.
Since 1914, 308 league, championship and exhibition games have been played against the leading teams of the American and European continents. The Grads have
won 301 of them. As already mentioned, both the provincial and dominion crowns have been retained since acquisition. The world’s title, won in 1924 and retained in 1928, is awarded by the Federation Sportive Feminine Internationale, the headquarters of which are in Paris.
To accomplish this record they have traveled 54,568 miles—practically twice around the world—since 1922. They have invaded Eastern Canada on three occasions, traveled twice from New York to San Francisco, and south to Fort Worth; twice to the Pacific coast of Canada and twice to Europe.
Naturally this has not been accomplished by five girls alone. Of the team that went to Europe in 1924, not one, not even a substitute player, was on the 1928 lineup. In that lies the wonder of it all and in that lies the greatest tribute to Coach Page—that year after year a team dependent on a single school should be broken up, reorganized and still be able to more than hold its own with anything on this well-known globe. In the present team the old rule of allowing only Edmonton Commercial High school graduates to play was broken for the first time at the urging of citizens who believed that the team should be civic rather than one representing a single institution. Gladys Fry, a University of Alberta graduate, the present centre, is the first girl to fill a regular berth on the team under the new ruling.
“How has it been done?” is the question frequently hurled at Mr. Page.
“Well, to begin with, we’ve had a remarkably fine lot of girls,” he will reply. “They’re well equipped physically and are willing to sacrifice a few good times to keep up to a high standard of training.”
For eight months in the year the Grads practise two nights a week; more when an important series is on the horizon. Apart from that, their recreation is largely physical. For the most part it is pleasure to them to keep up this routine, but when it ceases to amuse them they continue it just the same.
There are four stages to a Grad. A student on entering Commercial High School is given the opportunity of trying for the junior school team. By the time she has won a place she has been well sized up by Mr. Page. When she makes the proper weight, she has a chance for the senior lineup. Then, with graduation, or in her last year at school, a place on the Gradettes is hers to win. The Gradettes, younger sisters to the Grads, have the same taking ways in intermediate circles that the world’s champions have in the senior group. Finally, if a young lady has basketball “it”, there is a black and gold uniform that is known throughout the world waiting for her.
It is not unnatural that the finished Grad machine is well-nigh perfect. Coach Page is a student of human nature as well as an expert of tactics in the hoop pastime. He knows his players closely from the time they have scarcely the strength to heave the ball against the backboard until they are able to ring up a perfect one-handed basket on the gallop four times out of five. The girls themselves have played together or watched each other play for years. They have been drilled as thoroughly as guardsmen, every play being carried out on signals that have never yet been solved by the opposition. Added to this, years of notable successes have built up the strongest sort of tradition. That, in itself, is a sixth
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player on the floor. It is not to be wondered at that there has been no stopping a lineup built and maintained with such skill and foresight.
It’s the team-work that does it. Player for player, the Grads have run into many stars who were their match, and sometimes their superiors. They have never yet, however, had their spirit of co-operation equaled. On their way to Europe in 1928 they met an all-star team in Hamilton composed of picked players from that city and Toronto. There were some positively brilliant players on the Eastern team yet they were swamped 61 to 14. Individual excellence proved futile against well-knit team-work.
In the United States they take their basketball seriously. Big commercial institutions, eager to bring their names before the public, finance teams of picked players so generously that in many cases the situation amounts almost to professionalism. The Grads have played fortyfive games with the best of these. They lost three—all in a row. It occurred when the Canadians were on tour. They were billed for ten games in eleven nights, the hours between encounters being almost entirely occupied by traveling. It was at the hands of their ancient foes, the Cleveland Favorite Knits, whom they had defeated originally for the old mythical world’s championship, that they met their greatest loss. The American girls took three out of four close tussles from the fagged Canadians and promptly claimed all the honors the Grads held, although the series was billed for only the American title. The Grads debated the controversy a bit, then piped down and waited until the next international series brought the teams together again. Cleveland went down under a smothering defeat and the argument came to an abrupt conclusion.
Incidentally, it was after the disastrous Cleveland series that Eastern Canada came closer to winning back the dominion championship than they had before or have since. The Grads, still unrecovered from their trying experience in the States, went directly to Toronto from a game at Detroit and lost the first match of the Canadian series with the Toronto team by a five point margin. The Edmontonians were never forced to fight with their backs to the wall more than they were when they went into that second and deciding game. They rose to the occasion magnificently, however, and the hopes of the Easterners were obliterated by a 27-6 score. The Edmontonians, sore but happy, went home resolved to pass up the game-a-day schedule for evermore.
TN THEIR forty-five games with Ameri-
can teams the champions have scored 1514 points against 558, an average of 32 to 11 a game. In their seven Canadian championship series they have piled up 424 points in the fourteen games to 171 against, a point score of 30 to 12. It must be taken into consideration, too, that on only a very few occasions have the Grads given way to rubbing it in to a team that is quite apparently beaten.
European teams have fared even worse. In 1924, the Canadians swept through the Continent, winning six consecutive matches with a combined score of 360 to 47. In 1928, they took nine games in a row with a total score of 664 to 100. In one of these encounters, played at Paris, they created a world’s record by registering a count of 109 points.
It is hardly surprising that a team with such qualifications is being boomed strongly as Canadian representatives at the next Olympic games. Basketball was not included on the 1924 or 1928 Olympic schedules and the Dominion was unable to secure anything but unofficial credit for the girls’ brilliant performances. There is a reasonable certainty that the sport will be officially recognized in 1932,
however, and the Grads will have an opportunity to obtain the reward they have so long deserved.
Naturally, there is the possibility of their being supplanted as the leading team of the dominion in the meantime but, as far as present indications go, their successors will have to depend on their own superior prowess and not on deterioration of the Grads. Coach Page is quite definite in his assertion that the present lineup is the finest he has ever had to work with. He has had greater individual performers, perhaps, but never so perfect an all-round team.
“I only wish I could take my pick of all the girls who have passed through the club and stack them against the present lineup,” he says wistfully. “It would be the battle of the century.”
He names as his choices for “The Rest,” Connie Smith as centre; the Johnson sisters, Dorothy and Daisy, as forwards; Winnifred Martin and Mary Dunn as guards. All of these girls were on the team that made the original invasion of Europe. Incidentally, three of them do not answer to the names given above at the present time but those are the titles by which they were known to the basketball public. Winnie Martin, who captained the team, stepped from the boat on her arrival at Montreal following the overseas series and was whisked away to emerge as the wife of Dr. “Bob” Tait, a well-known athlete at the University of Alberta and McGill. Connie Smith, the popular choice as the greatest player the team ever produced, and Mary Dunn are both married to wellknown amateur athletes.
One of the greatest objections that have been raised to girls playing basketball under men’s rules has been that it is too strenuous a sport for the fair sex and liable to damage their health. Certainly the argument seems to have its points when one sees a miniature rugby match milling beneath the hoop. Mr. Page answers the charge, however, by pointing out that none but the strongest, bestfitted girls are allowed to participate, and once they are members of a team the compulsory training keeps them in such shape that they can absorb any amount of punishment without permanent harm. If one is really interested, he’ll reel off the names of many former Grads who are to-day raising some of the huskiest youngsters in the Dominion.
Word of this wonder team has traveled to all parts of the world. Negotiations are under way at the moment for a tour of New Zealand, the authorities from “down under” making every effort to arrange for the bringing of the game’s greatest exponents to the Antipodes. Japanese Olympic representatives interviewed Mr. Page to the same purpose in Paris last summer and the scheme is still in the wind.
THE present regulars, as Mr. Page says, are as near perfection as would seem humanly possible. Margaret MacBurney, right forward, is without a doubt as fine a sharpshooter as the game has ever seen. Mildred McCormick, the other forward, handles the ball with an ability that is positively poetic. Both are small and elusive but solid enough to take the hardest punishment. Gladys Fry is built for the centre position and has filled perfectly the place vacated by the famous Connie Smith two years ago. Despite the fact that she holds down the hottest berth on the floor, she is the coolest person in the match from whistle to whistle. The defence of Kate Macrae and Elsie Bennie speaks for itself. No team has ever piled up a big score against the two husky, methodical custodians of the home cage. Miss Bennie, senior member of the lineup, captains the team.
It is not only the athletic ability of the girls which has won them the esteem of all comers. The moment the final whistle has
blown, the players, who a moment before had been giving and taking hard knocks on the unyielding maple floor with the fortitude of rugby players, emerge as thoroughly feminine and entirely likeable young ladies. They are in constant demand at social functions and public gatherings. Best of all, conceit is unknown to them. They are, if anything, too selfeffacing.
Two things have been constant in the
changing scene of the Grad panorama— the team spirit and Coach Percy Page. Certainly, the man who has directed the destinies of the organization could not have achieved the same heights without some really remarkable players to work with, but it is equally certain that the finest collection of basketball players that could have been assembled would have been halted at a certain point had there been a different skipper at the helm.
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