African American Swimmer Nate Clark, A Pioneer in NCAA Swimming, Nominated to be Inducted into ISHOF

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In honor of Black History Month, ISHOF presents the inspirational story of Nate Clark. 

The support for nominating Nate Clark to be inducted into the ISHOF, is the 2018 induction of Willie O’Ree into the Pro Hockey Hall of fame.  O’Ree played in only 46 games in the NHL, had four goals and ten assists. Clearly not Hall of Fame numbers, but the significance is that he broke a barrier as the first African American to play in the NHL

Now, the idea is that collegiate swimming in the 1960s might be the equivalent of the NHL and Clark was the first black swimmer to earn an athletic scholarship for swimming at a major swimming school (Ohio State), rather than choosing to attend a historically black college.  He was also the first Black swimmer to make the finals at the NCAA Championships in both 1962 and 1963.  Making it to the finals of the 100 meter butterfly in 1962 and both the 100 and 200 meter butterfly in 1963, with his highest finish being 4th.

Racism has had an incredible impact on swimming in America, as beaches and pools were strictly segregated through most of our nation – really no different and as strict as South African apartheid. Unknown to most is that at “colored pools and Ys” there were age group teams and leagues.  There was enough interest in swimming at Historically Black Colleges to have three leagues and a national “colored” AAU Championships was held from 1925 through the 1940s.  Today only Howard University supports a swim team.  There was however, virtually zero recognition or interaction between the AAU and black swimming.  Nothing reported in Swimming World (begun in 1952) and only an occasional mention in the NCAA guides that regularly reported on this, junior college and all divisions and conferences of collegiate swimming.  The only place to find anything is in the Black Newspapers – and even that rare.

One troubling example is the story of Conrad Reddick, who attended Penn from 1964 to 1968 and was elected team captain under coach George Breen his senior year (my brother was a classmate and teammate).  I was amazed to recently learn that Conrad grew up in Fort Lauderdale, the mecca for collegiate swimmers, home of the annual College Coaches Swim Forum since 1936 – and home of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Conrad swam for the “colored” Sunland pool and went to the Dillard “colored” high school, which won the “colored state championships” all four years he attended high school. Conrad never swam against a white swimmer before going to Penn, and never swam against another black swimmer during his collegiate career. The first integrated HS athletic competitions in Florida didn’t happen until 1967. Growing up in Fort Lauderdale, “Negroes” were not allowed on the public beaches and it wasn’t until 1965 after his freshman year at Penn that he first swam off Fort Lauderdale’s beach in the ocean.  There were signs on the beach that read “no Negroes” were allowed throughout most of the College Swim Forum years and there is no record of any swim coach from Bob Kipputh to Doc Councilman raising any public objection, visiting the local “colored” pool or inviting black swimmers or coaches from the area to participate in the forum’s educational activities.

Nate Clark was introduced to swimming at the Pittsburgh Central YMCA, a “colored Y” that had a rich tradition in swimming and had won the “colored” national AAU title several times in the 1930s and 1940s. When he was 15, his parents moved into a white neighborhood and he joined a YMHA. He was the only black swimmer on an integrated high school team and was recruited by Ohio State, which broke the “colored” line with Jesse Owens in the 1930s, and with Nate in swimming in 1960.  During his years, most of the great pools in Pittsburgh were off limits because of his race.

Nate was nominated to the International Swimming Hall of Fame by one of his Central Y teammates who humorously claims to be the last black swimmer to beat Clark.  Clark went on to be a successful lawyer for a fortune 500 company and passed away several years ago.

 

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