A look at one of Red Deer’s finest athletes

Another Summer Olympics is well underway.

Like past Olympics, there are sure to be wonderful performances by outstanding world athletes, amazing victories, crushing defeats and a great deal of controversy.

One tremendous Alberta sports success story involves a team that competed at three different Summer Olympics, won all the games they played and yet were never awarded an Olympic gold medal.

That is the story of the Edmonton Grads women’s basketball team.

The origins of this truly remarkable sports powerhouse go back to the time of the First World War. The provincial championship senior girls’ basketball team from McDougall Commercial High School asked their coach, Percy Page, if he would continue to coach them after graduation.

He agreed. The Commercial Graduates Basketball Club, nicknamed ‘The Grads’, was born.

As a side note, Page had previously been a teacher at the Hillsdown one-room country school, east of Red Deer.

In 1922, the Edmonton Grads defeated the London Ontario Shamrocks to claim their first Canadian women’s basketball championship.

The next year, the Grads won the Underwood Trophy to become the North American champions. Until they disbanded in 1940, the Grads never ceased to be both the Canadian and American championship team.

In 1924, the Grads played six games during the Paris Olympics.

They won all the games. Because women’s basketball was not yet considered an Olympic sport, they did not win gold medals. However, they were designated the world women’s basketball champions by the International Basketball Federation.

In 1928, the Grads played nine games in conjunction with the Amsterdam Olympics and won every single match.

Again, they were not awarded any Olympic medals, but did win the right to call themselves both the French and World champions because of the European teams they beat.

In 1932, the Grads attended the Los Angeles Olympic Games as spectators. However, no formal women’s basketball games were played.

In 1936, the Grads went to the Berlin Olympics. This time there were women’s basketball games again. The Grads were also allowed to both wear official Canadian team uniforms and sit in the Canadian athletes’ section. They won all nine of their games. They crushed the team from London, England by a score of 100 to 2.

Because of the outbreak of the Second World War, there were no 1940 Summer Olympics. The Edmonton Grads also decided to disband in 1940.

Over the lifetime of the team (i.e. 1915 to 1940), they won 502 games (400 official contests) and lost only 20. In 1983, all 38 players with the Grads were inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame.

There was one Red Deer player with the Grads.

She was Frances Gordon (later Mills). Frances was born in Red Deer on Jan. 19th, 1915.

After excelling in academics and sports in school in Red Deer, she went to Edmonton to train as a teacher.

She was scouted by Page, and began playing for the Gradettes, the feeder team for the Grads.

She left Edmonton and the Gradettes for a couple of years while she taught in a one-room country school. After returning to Edmonton to attend McDougall Commercial School, she joined the Grads in the spring of 1937.

After a year, Gordon returned to the Gradettes. She continued to play with them until the team disbanded in 1940.

After the end of the Second World War, she returned to Red Deer where she got a job with the City Utilities office. In 1948, she married Oswin ‘Ozzie’ Mills, who later became the head of the City’s Electric Light and Power Department.

Frances was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and the Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School Halls of Fame. She passed away in Red Deer on April 14th, 2004 at the age of 89. She and Ozzie are survived by two sons, Brian and Gerry, and their families.

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