Hall of Famer
NOEL MACDONALD ROBERTSON
Inducted in 1971 & 2017
Canadian women’s basketball championships (did not compete in 1936)
FSFI Exhibition in conjunction with Berlin Olympic Games.
The Commercial Graduates Basketball Club was the formal name of the Edmonton Grads team, coached by Percy Page, based at McDougall Commercial High School in Edmonton. Beginning as a women’s high-school team, the Grads ruled women's basketball from 1915 to 1940, playing 522 official games in Canada, the United States, and in Europe, winning 502 and only losing 20 for an average of 96.2%, and winning 49 out of a possible 51 domestic titles. They never lost a series in the Underwood International Championships, winning 23 times.
In 1924, the Fédération Sportive Feminine Internationale declared the Grads World Champions and they represented Canada at four consecutive Olympic Games from 1924 to 1936. They won all 27 of their Olympic matches, but because women's basketball was not yet an official event, there were no medals awarded. The inclusion of basketball in the Olympic Games occurred for men in 1936, but not for women until forty years later in 1976.
The Grads won three North American Championship series in 1934, 1935, and 1936, had two consecutive winning streaks of 147 and 78 games respectively, and were named World Champions from 1937 to 1940. At the time of their retirement, the Grads held 108 titles at local, provincial, western, national, international, and world levels, becoming a sporting dynasty whose winning record remains unparalleled by any team in any sport, male or female. Truly champions, the Grad’s success can be attributed to natural ability, strong leadership, dedication, fair play, and determination.
During the Grads' 25-year career, there were only 38 players listed in the official records. The Grads' sporting success was accompanied by the respect they earned in Canada and abroad and consequently silenced the critics who claimed that strenuous activity could be harmful to women. Perhaps the finest compliment came from the inventor of basketball, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame Honoured Member, Dr. James Naismith, who called them "the finest basketball team that ever stepped out on a floor."
Noel MacDonald Robertson played for the Edmonton Grads from 1933-1939; the Grads’ all-time high scorer and most decorated player, Robertson was unstoppable at the center position. Her great shooting, rebounding, and jumping abilities around the key made her an incredibly valuable player. She had skill, courage, a competitive spirit, and selfless team play, all qualities that her coaches and teammates admired.
Noel MacDonald made her presence felt as soon as she suited up for the Edmonton Grads, Canada’s greatest women’s basketball team, in 1933. The rookie centre was given the unenviable task of guarding Alberta Williams, Tulsa’s tall middle. Surprising perhaps even herself, MacDonald outscored Williams and helped lead the Grads to victory.
Of course, winning was nothing new for the Grads and their coach, Percy Page. Between 1915 and 1940, when the team was disbanded, the Grads played 522 games against both men’s and women’s teams and won all but 20 while recording winning streaks of 147 and 78 games.
But MacDonald was special, described by Canadian sports writing legend Trent Frayne as “tall and cool and statuesque and remote and inaccessible and she could shoot under pressure.” MacDonald played a total of 135 games for the Grads and notched 1,874 points to become the team’s all-time leading scorer, an average of 13.8 points per game.
Dubbed “Canada’s best female basketball player” of her era, in 1938 she was recognized by Canadian Press as Canada’s female athlete of the year. Capping it off, she got more votes than any other Grad in a 1940 poll to determine an all-time, all-star team.
MacDonald had been recruited for the Grads’ feeder team, the Gradettes, while in grade 12 at McDougall Commercial High School in Edmonton. She played just over a year for the Gradettes before joining the big club in 1933. She quickly rose to prominence and was named captain of the squad that won the Olympic women’s basketball exhibition tournament in Berlin in 1936.
Despite her talents, MacDonald listened as coach Page preached the importance of team play. During her tenure with the team, the Grads won every provincial and national championship they contested. In Underwood Trophy challenges, the Grads defended the cup 20 straight times between 1933 and 1939, winning 57 games and losing only three.
MacDonald retired in 1939 after marrying Harry Robertson, a one-time world champion hockey player. She served on the executive of the Canadian Amateur Basketball Association and took up coaching. She coached girls’ high school basketball in both Saskatchewan and Alberta, as well as at the University of Alberta.
She was inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978, an inaugural member.