Film turns spot­light on le­gend of Woot­ten

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY JA­COB BOGAGE ja­cob.bogage@wash­post.com

Film­maker Bill Hayes and for­mer DeMatha and North Carolina State stand­out Dereck Whit­ten­burg sat knee-to-knee on a com­muter jet to­gether six years ago on a three-hour flight up the East Coast. When they landed, the two had pledged to pro­duce a doc­u­men­tary to­gether about leg­endary DeMatha bas­ket­ball coach Mor­gan Woot­ten, one of the most suc­cess­ful high school coaches in his­tory.

“Mor­gan Woot­ten: The God­fa­ther of Bas­ket­ball” pre­miered Thurs­day night in the cafe­te­ria at the Hy­attsville school be­fore an au­di­ence of for­mer DeMatha play­ers and boost­ers.

The most im­por­tant re­view came in right away: “They did a phe­nom­e­nal job,” said Woot­ten, 86, who won 1,274 games in his 46 years at DeMatha be­fore re­tir­ing in 2002.

His teams won five high school na­tional cham­pi­onships and fin­ished ranked No. 1 in The Post 22 times. Ac­cord­ing to the film, over a 30-year pe­riod, ev­ery player who came through his bas­ket­ball team earned a col­lege schol­ar­ship. He was in­stru­men­tal in the de­vel­op­ment of the mod­ern “charg­ing” of­fen­sive foul and the fast-break of­fense.

He was in­ducted into the Naismith Memo­rial Bas­ket­ball Hall of Fame in 2000, but Hayes, the film’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer and di­rec­tor, said that for years Woot­ten’s le­gend was a lo­cal one. Hope­fully, that will change, he said.

“I couldn’t be­lieve that one high school coach could do all these things,” Hayes said. “I couldn’t be­lieve no­body knew his story. We need more lead­ers like him.”

Hayes high­lights in the 1-hour 14-minute doc­u­men­tary Woot­ten’s role de­vel­op­ing DeMatha into an ath­letic pow­er­house. When Woot­ten ar­rived at the school in 1956, the Stags had dropped out of the Wash­ing­ton Catholic League, the pre­cur­sor to the Wash­ing­ton Catholic Ath­letic Con­fer­ence.

“We can change that,” Woot­ten says with a smirk while rem­i­nisc­ing in the film’s open­ing min­utes.

He helped in­te­grate DeMatha three years later and stayed at the school un­til his re­tire­ment, turn­ing down nu­mer­ous of­fers to coach in col­lege and the pros. He de­clined a big-salary of­fer from N.C. State in 1980.

Fam­ily friends bought Woot­ten a fake news­pa­per with a poster head­line that read, “Mor­gan Stays at DeMatha and Joey Keeps Pa­per Route,” to rib his son Joe Woot­ten, now the ath­letic di­rec­tor and boys’ bas­ket­ball coach at Bishop O’Con­nell High School in Ar­ling­ton.

The movie is avail­able to rent or pur­chase on iTunes, Ama­zon and Google Play.

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