Film turns spotlight on legend of Wootten
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.