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USD coach led the fight to integrate college basketball in the 1950s

VERMILLION, S.D. (KELO AM) -- With the nation focused on Washington, D.C. this week in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the historic “March on Washington” and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, University of South Dakota archives reveal that the school’s basketball team, led by USD Hall of Fame Basketball Coach Dwane “Cloddy” Clodfelter, had made its own statement about diversity and equality, several years before Dr. King’s famous speech.

Clodfelter, USD’s men’s basketball coach from 1954-67, was a pioneer in the integration of college basketball in the 1950s, at a time when many public universities were not accepting of minority athletes or students. It’s one of the major themes of the forthcoming biography, “Cloddy,” which is being written by Kim Clodfelter, Dwane’s son and a 1977 USD graduate. Dwane Clodfelter, according to Kim, recruited and played minority basketball players at a time when it was uncommon -- professionally and collegiately, including USD’s run to the NCAA Division II National Championship in 1958. The recruitment of the Daniels brothers took place in 1954, nine years before the March on Washington.

“My dad had recruited Cliff and Jimmie Daniels, two African-American brothers from Brooklyn, N.Y.,” Kim Clodfelter recalled. “Cliff and Jimmie enrolled at USD in January of 1955 and it was soon obvious they were splendid and gifted athletes. To their credit, the white players on the USD squad from predominantly small Midwestern towns embraced the Daniels brothers.”

Less than four years after Clodfelter made the decision to integrate his basketball team, the Coyotes won the national championship, 75-53, knocking off St. Michael’s College (Vt.) behind Jimmie Daniels’ 40 points. Jimmie Daniels became a first team Division II All-American while Cliff, who played an integral role on the 1958 championship team, established his place in Coyote lore with his clutch play in a 1956 upset at the University of Wisconsin. The Badgers, ironically, chose to integrate their program the following season.

“My dad, who was a white, 36 year-old South Dakota native, wasn’t the only ally of minority students at USD in the fight for equality and opportunity,” Kim Clodfelter said. “USD’s entire student body and faculty played a noteworthy role in accepting and embracing the Daniels brothers. If the Daniels had met with racism on campus or in the Vermillion community, they would have left. Then Athletics Director Carl ‘Rube’ Hoy and then USD President I.D. Weeks also deserve credit for being color blind in affording minority students an opportunity for an excellent education at USD.”

Dwane “Cloddy” Clodfelter was inducted into the USD Athletic Hall of Fame in 1980. For more information about his legacy and the 1958 Coyote Basketball Team, please contact Kim Clodfelter at (608) 957-9350 or email kimclodfelter@gmail.com.