In Conversation with Kay MacBeth | The Canadian Encyclopedia


In Conversation with Kay MacBeth

Kay MacBeth (née MacRitchie) was the last player to join the Edmonton Grads, a women’s basketball team James Naismith, inventor of the game, considered “the finest basketball team that ever stepped out on a floor.” At 95 years old, MacBeth is also the last surviving Grad, a club that played from 1915 to 1940. In those 25 years, the Grads accumulated a record that is quite possibly beyond parallel. Over the course of some 400 official outings, the Grads lost only 20 games. The Grads were both national and world champions who often defeated their opponents by lopsided scores. MacBeth played for the Grads in 1939–40. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Kay MacBeth, 2016

Joanne Archibald: It’s really exciting for us to meet you because we think the Edmonton Grads were such an amazing part of the Canadian past that a lot of people don’t know about and so we wanted to make sure that the legacy of the Grads is well represented. That’s why we wanted to do a Heritage Minute on the Grads.

Kay MacBeth: Well I’m excited to think that anybody ever thinks about it. I was the last one put on the team…. And I’m the last one alive.

JA: Right. So you’re very special.

KM: Not really. I was a different kind of ball player than they were. I had different coaching, you know? They were far more ladylike than I was.

JA: When did you start playing basketball?

KM: Well I was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. My dad moved to Moose Jaw and then to Edmonton. And the school I went to in Edmonton were playing a women’s rules basketball, but it didn’t interest me…. The gentleman that was head of all sports for Edmonton was also a coach of the Grads and I can’t think of his name… [1]

Anyway, he took a turn at going to schools and getting them an hour’s training in something or other. We went out to the gym and he had drawn the circles on the floor, and I’d never seen a basketball. I may have seen one but I had never touched one. And he went through the one, two, three, you know, the run up step [a lay-up shot]. So we went through that and then he gave us a basketball and you carried it and the next one he passed it to you and it was a piece of cake…. I thought, “Hmm, I kind of like this.” So that’s what we did for nearly an hour. After it was over, he interested me in going to the tryouts for the junior team, which was one of the Grads junior teams… And that would be what — 1936 or so. All the girls in Edmonton wanted to be a Grad, you know?

Edmonton Grads, 1939
Back row: Mabel Munton McCloy, Jean Williamson, Percy Page, Noel MacDonald, Winnie Gallen; front row: Kay MacRitchie, Helen Northup, Etta Dann, Sophie Brown.

JA: Did you have a favourite play or a favourite shot?

KM: I wasn’t a great shotmaker…. Under the basket I was pretty good. I could steal pretty well, you know? I played hard…. But I was really a play maker. I brought the ball in when we started most of the time.

JA: Did you do anything special on game days? Did you have any rituals or anything special to prepare you to play the game?

KM: No. The most special thing we did was get a streetcar ticket to get out to the arena. We didn’t have transportation and everything, you know? Although we did have a room out at the arena. No we just had a little call before the game. You must’ve heard about it.

JA: Do you still remember parts of it?

KM: Oh sure I know it…. My feet don’t work very well. You get in a circle; put our arms around each other. Now I might make a mistake….

Pickles, ketchup, chow, chow, chow.
Eat ‘em up, chew ‘em up, bow, wow, wow.
Cannibal, Hannibal, zis-boom-ba.
Commercial Graduates like to ra, ra, ra!

And we banged a foot the whole time.

JA: So how did it feel to be chosen for the Grads? Did you feel like your family was really excited for you?

KM: Well my mother was very quiet about it. She was excited, but my dad was my best bud when it came to any sports.

JA: And did you feel like the city of Edmonton was supportive of the Grads — that they encouraged young women to join?

KM: Oh yes. We were really honoured there, you know? We got invited to lots of nice dinners and different memorial things. You could go down the street and people would say hello to you. They may not know your name but they knew you were a Grad… and so you’d know they’d been going to the games.

Edmonton Grads, 1940
Back row: Mabel Munton McCloy, Jean Williamson, Percy Page, Winnie Gallen, Kay MacRitchie; front row: Betty Bawden, Helen Northup, Etta Dann, Sophie Brown.

JA: What was it like to play for Percy Page? He was very strict, I understand.

KM: Well he wasn’t strict about the game. He figured you already knew it so he didn’t have to tell you about it. If you did something really stupid he’d take you aside…. He was a very quiet man, you know? A true gentleman, he was. Mind you, in a halftime if there were things he saw, he would tell us at halftime, like “Speed it up a bit” or whatever…. He never said anything to you on the bench — never.

JA: But Mr. Page was strict off the court, he wanted you to be “ladies.”

KM: He expected that, but he didn’t come up to you and say “you do that.” It was just in our general talk. We’d get together and — always when we had visiting teams we always had them out to dinner. We had to be sure to be dressed nicely like ladies and always speak like ladies. That was hard for me at times.

JA: How did you feel about girls having to leave the team when they got married?

KM: Didn’t bother me at all. I don’t know why they left, because I played after I was married…. If you have the time and if you have children, take care of them. Usually the kids all came with us in those days.

JA: But most of the girls in the Grads left sports after they got married?

KM: Yes I think so. I played until I was about 33.

JA: The Grads are such an inspiration for women who participate in sports. It was not a common thing for women to be involved in sports at such a high level, and you really paved the way…

KM: Well I think a lot of people did think that it was very unladylike, but I didn’t see anything unladylike about it. I mean, the one thing we were not allowed to do was push people around. We played the game without smashing into people or elbowing or any of that kind of stuff. That’s why I think we got away all the time.

Former Grads and the last team at the final series, 3 June 1940
Back row: Helen Stone, Abbie Scott Kennedy, Edith Stone, Frances Gordon, Nellie Perry McIntosh, Elena Todd Downie, Ethel Anderson Lovatt, Evelyn Coulson Cameron, Daisy Johnson, Babe Daniel Morgan; third row: Babe Belanger MacLean, Doris Neale Chapman, Jessie Innes Maloney, Elizabeth Elrick Murray, Mildred McCormack Wilkie, Marguerite Bailey, Helen McIntosh Lees, Harriet Hopkins, Mae Brown Webb, Betty Ross Chevalier. Second row: Gladys Fry Douglas, Elsie Bennie Robson, Winnie Martin Tait, Etta Dann, Percy Page, Margaret MacBurney, Dorothy Johnson Sherlock, Connie Smith McIntyre; front row: Betty Bawden, Helen Northup, Kay MacRitchie, Mabel Munton McCloy, Jean Williamson, Winnie Gallen, Sophie Brown.


[1] Bill Tait was a coach of the Gradettes, one of the Grads’ feeder teams.

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