Once upon a time these women ruled basketball in Canada
TORONTO — They were basketball’s version of “A League of Their Own,” a group of trailblazing women who dominated Canadian basketball for a quarter century.
Kay MacBeth, the last surviving member of the Edmonton Graduates, died Saturday at 96.
“It’s really an end of an era,” granddaughter Christin Carmichael Greb said. “It was like the movie. It was the same sort of thing for basketball. There were these women who were amazing athletes that we don’t always hear about.”
James Naismith, the Canadian inventor of basketball, once referred to the Grads as “the finest basketball team that ever stepped out on a floor.”
They won 17 world titles and went 502-20 from their founding in 1915 to 1940, when they folded because of the demands of war and falling attendance.
Coached by J. Percy Page, who would become lieutenant governor of Alberta, the Grads captured four straight exhibition Olympic titles — before women could compete in the games — and won all 27 matches.
They played nine games against men’s teams. They won seven of them.
“From that era, you didn’t have a lot of female athletes coming up, said Carmichael Greb, a Toronto city councilor. “I was a rower through high school, and so to have that sort of inspiration of a female athlete, someone who lived through a completely different period where there were no women’s sports, it was a great thing to have growing up.”
MacBeth played softball and dodge ball growing up in Saskatchewan, but didn’t take up basketball until 10th grade. A 5-foot-4 guard, she joined the Grads in 1939 when she was 17 and played in the team’s final two seasons.
In an interview with The Canadian Press last year, she described herself as “fast and a good playmaker and not a ball hog. Any time the ball was in our hands, I pretty much started it.”
The Grads were inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983. They entered the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2017. At the induction news conference, MacBeth asked former Calgary Flames star and fellow inductee Lanny McDonald for a kiss.
“How about that?” McDonald grinned through his bushy moustache.
“MacBeth and the Edmonton Grads transformed the sport in Canada and were an inspiration to women’s basketball players not only across the country but around the world,” Wayne Parrish, co-chair of Canada Basketball’s board of directors, said in a statement.
MacBeth and her teammates — there were just 38 official players — remained close after the Grads disbanded. Their last reunion was in the 1980s.
“It was a crying session at our last dinner anyway, everybody was upset to some degree,” MacBeth said last year. “We decided we’d meet every three years somewhere in Canada, which we did until everybody had become either ill or too far away.”