Edmonton Grad was an icon in her day

All-time lead­ing scorer of leg­endary women’s bas­ket­ball team helped set new stan­dards for ath­letic suc­cess

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS - KEITH GEREIN EDMONTON

Noel MacDon­ald, whose skill shoot­ing a bas­ket­ball for the sto­ried Edmonton Grads pro­gram en­shrined her as one of Canada’s best-ever fe­male ath­letes, has died at age 93.

MacDon­ald died Tues­day at an Edmonton ex­tended-care fa­cil­ity af­ter a long strug­gle with Alzheimer’s dis­ease, a fam­ily mem­ber said.

“Af­ter a while she didn’t re­mem­ber a lot, but she cer­tainly did re­mem­ber be­ing on the Grads and be­ing a part of that,” said the rel­a­tive, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied. “Those were the days that she rel­ished.”

The team’s all-time lead­ing scorer, MacDon­ald was per­haps the best-known mem­ber of a pro­gram that set new stan­dards for ath­letic suc­cess.

In their 25 years of op­er­a­tion, the Grads won 502 of the 522 games they played against Cana­dian and in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion, with many of those vic­to­ries com­ing against men’s teams.

Born in Saskatchewan but raised in Edmonton, MacDon­ald grew to a height of five-foot-101⁄ mak­ing her the sec­ond tallest girl in the city’s school sys­tem.

In the early 1930s, she was at­tend­ing John A. McDougall Com­mer­cial High School — the same school where the Grads first formed in 1915 — when she was re­cruited to the squad by coach J. Percy Page.

She ini­tially played for the Grads’ feeder team, the Gradettes, for a year be­fore mak­ing her de­but with the big club in 1933 as a start­ing for­ward and backup cen­tre.

In one of her first games, she was tasked with guard­ing Tulsa, Okla., star Al­berta Wil­liams, a three-time all-Amer­i­can who was an inch taller than MacDon­ald. The Ed­mon­to­nian won the bat­tle, scor­ing 20 points while hold­ing the more ac­com­plished Wil­liams to just four.

MacDon­ald served as Grads’ cap­tain from 1936-39, lead­ing her squad to sev­eral North Amer­i­can, Cana­dian and pro­vin­cial cham­pi­onships as well as top prize at an Olympic ex­hi­bi­tion tourna- ment in Ber­lin.

A dy­namic scorer who loved to use a run­ning re­lease shot, MacDon­ald never strayed from Page’s dis­ci­plined team approach.

“None of the girls smoked nor do I know of any of them drink­ing while on the team,” she once said. “When a chal­leng­ing team came to town, one of the first things we made a point of find­ing out was how many and who smoked. If a num­ber of them did, we could re­lax a lit­tle be­cause we knew we could run them into the ground by half­time.”

MacDon­ald re­tired in 1939 and the Grads pro­gram shut down a year later due to the Sec­ond World War. For a while, she took up coach­ing po­si­tions in Al­berta and Saskatchewan, in­clud­ing at the Univer­sity of Al­berta.

With 1,874 ca­reer points and an av­er­age of 13.8 points per game, MacDon­ald is in the record books as the Grads’ all­time lead­ing scorer.

She re­ceived the Cana­dian Press fe­male ath­lete of the year award in 1938, la­belled by one jour­nal­ist as the coun­try’s “best fe­male bas­ket­ball player” of her era.

“She was a big deal in her day. She was an icon,” the fam­ily mem­ber said.

MacDon­ald mar­ried a hockey player, Harry Robert­son, and the cou­ple had two chil­dren, a son and a daugh­ter. In part due to Harry’s job with Im­pe­rial Oil, the fam­ily moved to dif­fer­ent places, in­clud­ing Libya, Vic­to­ria, and Alaska be­fore even­tu­ally set­tling in Ari­zona.

Harry died in 1990, af­ter which Noel moved back to her child­hood home in Edmonton.

Me­mo­rial ser­vices will be held in Ari­zona, where most of MacDon­ald’s friends and fam­ily re­side, the rel­a­tive said.

MacDon­ald was in­ducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1971.

SUP­PLIED

Noel MacDon­ald, top row, sec­ond from right, with the Edmonton Grads at the 1936 Ber­lin Olympics, re­ceived The Cana­dian Press fe­male ath­lete of the year award in 1938.

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