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Traxler: SDIC's rich history lives on through basketball greats

The conference's history was celebrated in October with special hall of fame ceremony.

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Action from the Dakota Wesleyan University Men's Basketball team's 2021 season opener against Dakota State on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

It was a gathering of South Dakota small-college basketball royalty at Mitchell Wesleyan Church.

The South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony was not a large-scale affair, with about 100 people in attendance for the event on a rainy Wednesday afternoon on Oct. 27.

Among the 12 honorees, there were more than 20,000 career points, thousands of rebounds and countless stories among the players. In the words of Mitchell’s Chris Fosness, who introduced inductee Alan Miller during the ceremony: “To play in the SDIC, you have to have a horse. There are horses in this room.”

As Miller himself put it, after watching the SDIC teams growing up and having it in his family with his older brothers playing at Dakota Wesleyan: “The heavenly father ordained me to play in the SDIC.”

To each of the people in the room, this was not just any other conference. Spending more than a couple of minutes listening to the remarks and the memories of the players involved, one could see how much their time in college meant to them.

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More than one inductee spoke about how their time in college not only was fun or memorable but was life-changing and set them on the paths they’re on now, as husbands and fathers and in their careers.

“It opened up doors and it changed my life,” Northern State graduate DuWayne Groos said of his playing career for the Wolves, graduating in 1965 after scoring nearly 1,900 points. “I consider this a big honor.”

In an email, Gene Smith, a 92-year-old inductee who graduated in Huron College and now lives in Visalia, California, wrote that he would be “forever grateful” for his four years in the SDIC from 1949 to 1952, and experience he said “has served me well my entire life.” He regularly writes that he's a "South Dakota boy living in a California world."

With the inductees on hand, there were rivals from their playing days but from 30 or 40 years ago and many of them were grateful for the competition and the shared memories. In his speech, Black Hills State alumnus Joe Divis, a 7-foot center who graduated in 1994, specifically mentioned fellow forwards Dakota Wesleyan’s Scott Morgan and South Dakota Tech’s Mitch Slusarski for how much he appreciated their games against each other.

“Everyone has changed but nobody has changed,” Slusarski said, of getting back together with his old foes.

It’s easy to be jaded about another hall of fame. There are already plenty for high schools and colleges, plus statewide honor groups and groups for specific sports. The SDIC already had a hall of fame that honored players from all sports over its 80-plus years of history and was previously recognized in the Corn Palace lobby.

But remembering the SDIC needs a shot in the arm, as organizer Myron Moen has proposed with this new venture. The conference ceased operations in 2000, meaning it's already a full generation removed from people getting to see the SDIC in action. As time passes, that gap will become more difficult to bridge.

A banner in the event hall at the induction ceremony showed the 15 colleges that participated in the SDIC over its 83-year history. Of those, six have been closed (in many cases for decades) and the nine institutions that are left are spread over four conferences.

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Without the players that participated on those memorable teams and in those memorable games, that history becomes lost, or at very least, it becomes more difficult to revive and retell.

“We have a rich history. Let’s not let it fade away,” Moen told the crowd in closing.

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Action from the Dakota Wesleyan University Men's Basketball team's 2021 season opener against Dakota State on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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