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Edmonton Grads

Basketball series gameEarly on in the Edmonton Exhibition Association's (EEA) history, some of Edmonton’s young female athletes came together to form a world-class basketball team. The brainchild of the Honourable John Percy Page—educator, sportsman, and one-time lieutenant governor of Alberta—the Edmonton Grads team stayed together for several decades, making EEA facilities their home court and bringing acclaim to the region’s athletes.

Edmonton Commercial GradsAt the beginning of the 20th century the young sport, which had been recently created by Canadian Dr. James Naismith in 1891, had taken the province’s youth by storm. Round robin games were scheduled throughout the province, and unlike other sports that females were barred from participating in, basketball was embraced by many young people, regardless of gender.

Portrait of GradsThe young women of the Edmonton Grads met in 1914, on the gym court of McDougall Commercial High School. Energized by the athletic buzz around the sport, they formed the school’s female basketball team and played together as students, quickly ascending the ranks in school tournaments. By the following year they had become provincial champions.

Nearing the end of their schooling at the time of their initial success, the team members soon graduated. Rather than disbanding, they elected to continue playing and invited their high school coach, Page, to stay on as their esteemed trainer. By 1915, the team was solidified and donned the name that would make them famous, the Commercial Graduates Basketball Team, a name soon abbreviated by their fans to "The Grads."

Portrait of GradsFor the first eight years following the Grads’ formation, their games were against various Albertan teams. Dominating the sport provincially, the Grads began to play nationally, beating an Ontario team, the Cleveland Favorite-Knits. This win led to their acquisition of the 1923 Canadian title and thrust them into fame.

Grads on the courtThough basketball was not deemed an official sport at the Olympics, the Grads were invited to the 1924 Paris games for exhibition matches. So skilled were they considered that when at a loss for female opponents, they played, and beat, male teams. Considered unique for both their superior skills and their gender, they impressed Amsterdam, Los Angeles, and Berlin crowds and continued to represent Canada as exhibitor guests until 1936, leaving a blaze of victories with all 27 of their exhibition games won.

Further acclaim followed with the Grads winning the Underwood Trophy for Canada-United States competitions. They earned the award consecutively from the inception of the series in 1923 until 1940, when the team retired and the trophy was presented to them as a permanent award.

Grads' team membersThe EEA’s role in supporting the Grads was consistent over the years. Every summer, EEA staff would layer the Livestock Pavilion floors with wood shavings to provide a court on which the team could practice and play challenger teams. This provided a secure environment in which the women could hone their exceptional skills and Edmonton fans could watch them play. In 1924, the team proudly led the annual summer exhibition parade.

Team membersFinishing their basketball careers together, the Edmonton Commercial Graduates left a mark on basketball for their sportsmanship and exceptional winning record: a sum of 502 wins and only 20 losses. Despite being an internationally famous team who received accolades from the inventor of the game itself, the athletes were forced to disband because of the Second World War. With the EEA grounds occupied by Canadian military personnel, and the availability of competitor teams and audiences waning, the Grads ended their successful career, but not before leaving fans quite a legacy.

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