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Equality dream came early to USD

Cliff and Jimmie Daniels with Dwane "Cloddy" Clodfelter in the mid-1950s at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. (Image courtesy of USD)1 / 2
Cliff (21) and Jimmie (11) Daniels with coach Dwane "Cloddy" Clodfelter after winning the NCAA Division II men's national championship for the University of South Dakota in 1958. (Image courtesy of USD)2 / 2

Northern Plains News Service

VERMILLION -- When Martin Luther King delivered his "I have a dream" speech 50 years ago this week, the University of South Dakota and a Woonsocket native had already started implementing King's dream of equality.

The man who helped to make it happen was Dwane "Cloddy" Clodfelter, Coyotes basketball coach from 1954 to 1967. He was nearly a decade ahead of King's 1963 speech and 1966 NCAA Division I champion Texas Western's all-black starting five.

"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."

But the Woonsocket native wasn't the only person at USD who helped break the racial barrier.

The younger Clodfelter said the white USD players also deserve credit.

"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."

Kim Clodfelter added that then-athletic director Carl "Rube" Hoy and then-university president I.D. Weeks also deserve credit for being colorblind in affording minority students an opportunity for an education at USD.

Fewer than four years after Clodfelter made the decision to integrate his basketball team, the Coyotes won the NCAA Division II men's national championship, 75-53, defeating 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 chose to integrate their program the following season.

Clodfelter was inducted into the USD Athletic Hall of Fame in 1980. Prior to starting his coaching career at USD in 1953, he coached high school sports for 15 years in Forestburg, Fedora, Alpena, Centerville, Yankton and Huron. He suffered a heart attack in June 1967 and resigned as basketball coach. He remained at USD until retiring in 1983, with a new career as an assistant athletic director and men's and women's golf coach. He died in 2006 at the age of 87. Clodfelter's record at USD was 149 wins and 153 losses.

Kim Clodfelter is working on a book, "Cloddy," about his father's life and role in integrating collegiate sports. The younger Clodfelter has already conducted more than 40 interviews, including with the late Al Neuharth, a student of Coach Clodfelter's at Alpena and former South Dakota State University basketball coach Jim Iverson.