Often recognized as one of Canada’s most versatile athletes, Saskatoon’s Pat Lawson has been inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame.
“Being inducted into the hall is a wonderful recognition and one I never thought would happen,” said Lawson in the wake of her triumph. “Basketball was the game I enjoyed the most. If I had a special gift, I think I was born strong. It was the sport where I think I had the most natural ability.”
Lawson grew up on the basketball courts at Bedford Road Collegiate and went to the University of Saskatchewan where, in her rookie season at 18 years of age, she was voted the team’s most valuable player.
She played four years for the Huskiettes — as they were then known —and then shifted to the Saskatoon Aces senior women’s team. She led a Vancouver Eilers team to the national championship in 1955 and came back to Saskatoon to lead the Aces to a Canadian title in 1959.
She had gone to teach in Vancouver for one year and Lawson remembered “the playoff system was different in those days. Once we won British Columbia, we went east province-by-province and travelling by train, until we got to Toronto and won the title.”
The 1959 championship with the Aces was especially gratifying.
“In the round-robin, we lost to the Eilers by four points in the first game and then won the next four. We surprised ourselves at how well we rallied to win the final. Bob Stayner was one of the world’s greatest cheerleaders, and he gave us the last-hope pep talk and we started to come back. We went ahead against the Eilers with four minutes to go and we stayed there”, said Lawson is her usual modest style.
The ultimate tribute to Lawson was told by Stayner in my book, Behind the Sports Headlines, where he said, “Pat did most of the work at both ends. In the last quarter, it seemed like nobody had the ball but Pat. She had the ability and greatest desire of anyone I’ve ever seen.” He added a special footnote: “And she was the easiest person in the world to coach.”
In 1959, the Aces represented Canada at the Pan-American Games in Chicago. One of her teammates, chosen from another province, was Darlene Currie, who went into the Canadian hall in 1994 and was an instigator in getting Lawson nominated. Playing a role two years ago in the nomination was Paul Thomas, a former Huskie men’s coach, who had a long career at the University of Windsor and died in November 2017.
It was Thomas who engineered one of the happiest times in Lawson’s life.
“He was coaching the Huskies, who were playing in Vancouver in the winter of 1955 when I was with the Eilers. He told me that a coaching vacancy had come up with the Huskiettes and that I should apply,” said Lawson. She came back and coached the women’s team from 1956 until 1967. She was assistant dean of academics in the College of Physical Education when she retired in 1990.
Lawson had earlier coached at Nutana Collegiate and one of the great happenstances was that on the 1959 Aces, her teammates included Judy Holt, Judy Jenkin, Carole Lambert, Eleanor Edwards and Carol Josephson, who had all played for her at Nutana.
Her versatility in sports is well-documented. She played six sports — basketball, speed skating, track and field, golf, swimming and tennis. She won provincial championships in each sport. And she did this in an era where women were seldom considered for Canadian Olympic teams.
Al Anderson followed Lawson into the halls at Bedford Road and played senior men’s basketball at the same time Lawson was playing with the senior women.
“At Bedford, we knew her best in basketball. She was a powerhouse who could do anything offensively and was very competent defensively. She was a self-made athlete, strong and determined. She was an incredible athlete and was always a wonderful woman.”
Lawson becomes the only player or coach from Saskatchewan to make it into the Canadian cage hall. Bryan Nicurity of Regina preceded her in 1996 as an official and administrator.
“I’d like to thank my past teammates and all the amazing young women I coached over the years at the University of Saskatchewan,” said Lawson.