Morgan and Kathy Wootten (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)
Morgan and Kathy Wootten (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)

In life, Morgan Bayard Wootten was a high school basketball icon who in 46 seasons at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, led the Stags to five national championships and 33 titles in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.

And in death, it was understandable why Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and generations of talented basketball players would gather in the Morgan and Kathy Wootten Center to honor one of the most successful high school coaches in U.S. history.

“I never remember one time when Coach obsessed about winning a basketball game,” said CBS Sports anchor and former DeMatha player James Brown, fighting back tears as he eulogized a man he other players affectionately called Coach. “He stressed maximizing the gifts and talents that the Lord blessed to become the best player, the best team and the best person that we could become.”

Brown said he will always remember interviewing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who recognized Brown as a player on the Wootten-coached DeMatha team that made national news in 1965 by ending the 71-game winning streak of Abdul-Jabbar’s Power Memorial Academy.

“He said, ‘You are from that school,’” Brown told the crowd with a big smile.

Wootten was born in Durham, N.C., but his family moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, when he was a child. He attended Gonzaga College High School and Montgomery Blair High School, from which he graduated in 1950.

In 1951, Wootten began coaching baseball, football and basketball at St. Joseph’s Home and School for Boys, an orphanage in northeast D.C. During this time, he transferred from Montgomery College to the University of Maryland, College Park, where he earned his degree in physical education and history in 1956.

That year, Wootten was hired as a history teacher and coach of the football and basketball teams at DeMatha. Although his football teams won three league titles, he eventually focused on basketball after the 1968 season.

When he retired in 2002, Wootten’s career coaching record stood at 1,274-192 in 46 seasons as the head coach of DeMatha.

Wootten never had a losing record, with his worst performance coming in the 1957-58 season, when DeMatha went 17-11, the only one of his teams to not have at least 20 wins. He had two perfect seasons, the first coming in 1977-78 (28-0) and the other in 1990-91 (30-0).

Wootten coached more than a dozen players who went on to play in the NBA, including Adrian Dantley and Danny Ferry, as well as current Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey.

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden (1910–2010) once said of Wootten, “I know of no finer coach at any level — high school, college or pro. I stand in awe of him.”

In 2000, Wootten became the third high school coach to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the first to be admitted solely as a high school coach, Brown said.

While Wootten received job offers from North Carolina State and Georgetown and was sought after by Duke, Wake Forest and Virginia. He never got an offer to coach at Maryland, though sportswriters said he would have taken that job.

At his funeral service, generations of coaches and players watched as a Catholic priest led the somber procession with Wootten’s cremated remains out of the DeMatha gym.

The Woottens, who were married in 1965, lived in University Park where they raised their five children, Cathy, Carol, Tricia, Brendan and Joe.

As the family walked out of the gym, WI photographer Shevry Lassiter asked Tricia how did it feel to be the daughter of one of the greatest coaches of all time. She responded, “He was Dad! He was just Dad!”

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *