Edmonton Grads, a Canadian women's amateur basketball team from the inter-war years. 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 team played the five-player one-court game as opposed to the six-player divided court game that prevailed in the colleges and high schools, and among most of the Amateur Athletic Union teams in the United States.
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.
The team compiled a record of about 412 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, as the team claimed. The Grads defeated the Favorite-Knits in a two-game combined score match, 55 to 33. The Grads never relinquished either the Canadian Championship and relinquished the Underwood Trophy only once until the team disbanded in 1940.
The one Underwood Trophy series was lost in 1926, when in April the Grads lost to the Newman-Sterns of Cleveland in four games for the championship. Two games were played in Cleveland, which was split, losing 23-16 in the first game but prevailing 15-10 in the second game. In New York, the Newman-Sterns prevailed in two games, 15-10 and 13-8. The Newman-Sterns won the championship by a combined score of the four games, 72-60.
Many of the Grads opponents were from Chicago, where the five-player game prevailed in a flourishing amateur scene, most notably the Taylor Trunks, Uptown Brownies, Spencer Coals, and Queen Anne Aces. Chicago four times put together ad hoc teams of all-stars, three times the Red Devils and once the Chicago All-Stars, but Edmonton dispatched those teams readily.
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 three tournaments held in conjunction to the Olympic Games, in 1924, 1928, and 1936. This achievement was unrecognized on the medal podium as women's basketball did not become an official Olympic sport until the 1976 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.
The Grads disbanded in 1940 after the outbreak of the Second World War. At that time, the team garnered probably more than 100 local, provincial, national and international titles during their existence. Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, called the Grads the "finest basketball team that ever stepped out on a floor."
A large number of popular and academic articles have been published on the Edmonton Grads, as well as two books, a young teen history and an academic history, the latter of which is: M. Ann Hall, The Grads Are Playing Tonight: The Story of the Edmonton Commercial Graduates Basketball Club, (Edmonton, Alberta: 2011).
The Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame inducted the entire team roster of players in 1980. In 1976 the Grads' successes were declared a National Historic Event in Canada.
- The often listed number of 522 wins was based on inaccurate records for the team from 1915 to 1922. Historian M. Ann Hall researched the records in 2011 and the best figure she came up with is 412.