Birth: Mortlach, Saskatchewan, January 23, 1915
Career Highlights1923 - Underwood Trophy (undefeated in challenge series)
1933-39 - Canadian women’s basketball championships (did not compete in 1936)
1936 - FSFI Exhibition - in conjunction with Berlin Olympics
1938 - Bobbie Rosenfeld Award
In 1933, Noel MacDonald received her basketball baptism. Joining the Edmonton Grads, Canada’s greatest women’s basketball team, the rookie was given the unenviable task of guarding Alberta Williams, Tulsa’s tall centre. Surprising perhaps even herself, MacDonald outscored Williams and helped lead the Grads to victory. Before she finished playing in 1939, retiring as the Grads’ captain, MacDonald would lead the Grads to success around the world.
In 1915, the girls’ basketball team of John A. McDougall Commercial High School in Edmonton, under the tutelage of coach Percy Page, who has been inducted as a builder into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, won the Alberta provincial championships. The women decided to continue playing following their school days and formed the Commercial Graduates’ Basketball Club. Thus were born the Edmonton Grads, the most successful team, regardless of sport, male or female, in the history of Canadian sport.
Between 1915 and 1940, the Grads played 522 games against both men’s and women’s teams around the world, winning 502 and recording winning streaks of 147 and 78 games. They lost only one provincial championship (1921) and, beginning in 1922, won the Canadian championship every year of their history. They won the first Underwood Trophy—a challenge cup contested primarily between Canadian and American women’s teams in 1923 and did not relinquish the trophy in the next 17 years. Although, women’s basketball was not an official Olympic sport, exhibition tournaments were held in conjunction with the 1924, 1928, 1932, and 1936 Games. The Grads represented North America and went undefeated in 27 games.
The standard of excellence set by the Grads in the 18 years before MacDonald joined the team made her achievements all the more remarkable. She was recruited for the Grads’ feeder team, the Gradettes, out of Grade 12 at McDougall Commercial High School. She played a year-and-a half for the Gradettes before joining the Grads in 1933. In 1936, she was named captain of the squad that won the Olympic exhibition tournament in Berlin. When she retired from the Grads in 1939, MacDonald had played 135 games for the Grads and was the team’s all-time leading scorer with an average of 13.8 points per game. She was called by one reporter “Canada’s best female basketball player” of her era and in 1938 Canadian Press recognized her as Canada’s female athlete of the year.
Despite her individual success, 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 in the process.
MacDonald retired after marrying Harry Robertson, a one-time world champion hockey player, in 1939. 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.