SNIDER: DeMatha's Wootten was a titan on and off court

Rick Snider
January 22, 2020 - 8:34 am
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Morgan Wootten will surely be remembered for his five national championships at DeMatha High. For using a broom to simulate the wingspan of opposing player Lew Alcindor before the Stags ended Power Memorial's 71-game winning streak.
 
I'll remember him as one of the best men I ever knew.
 
Wootten died on Tuesday just short of turning 89 years old. Forget the endless basketball honors. Morgan was a walking example of what we should all hope to be – a devout Christian who always wanted the best for others. For turning teenagers into fine adults who went on to do great things, no matter if the NBA was their future or not.
 
Ernie Cage was Wootten's first All-Met in 1956. Indeed, Cage did it three times. He never made the pros, but Cage was a respected college and high school basketball referee while working his day job as a Metropolitan Police officer for 37 years. In 1967, Cage wrestled a woman threatening to jump from atop the Willard Hotel off the ledge. That he could have been killed never crossed Cage's mind. Cage was one of the best refs and people I've known.
 
Adrian Dantley is one of basketball's immortals and certainly one of the top five players from Washington ever. Yet after retirement, Dantley worked as a crossing guard and youth basketball ref not for the few dollars, but to give back.
 
James Brown was an All-Met who went on to play for Harvard before becoming best known for moderating CBS' pregame NFL show. JB is one of the finer people I've known who gives continuously to the community.
 
These are just three of the countless outstanding men who came from the Wootten tree and their off-court lives made Morgan a whole lot happier than his coaching success.
 
Of course, Wootten's coaching success must be mentioned. Oddly, he started as a baseball coach for a District orphanage while attending college. He later became DeMatha's football coach, winning three titles in 12 years with a 79-40-2 mark. This while also coaching basketball and teaching history classes.
 
Wootten left football when noticing his rivals only coached one sport. He loved basketball more and dominated until retiring in 2002. Wootten was 1,274-192, the second most wins at any level. He also won 33 conference titles and ranked No. 1 in the Washington area for 22 years. Wootten was the first high school coach elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame. Amazingly, he never lost two straight games.
 
Wootten resisted leaving DeMatha for several college offers. Many thought he should have succeeded Lefty Driesell at Maryland rather than Bob Wade in the aftermath of Len Bias' 1986 death. That was the only job that would have pried Wootten away from the Hyattsville, Md. Catholic school.
 
I first met Wootten in 1980 while covering local preps. "The Godfather of Basketball" was already a legend in Washington, but the most down-to-earth person I'd cover. Wootten was a teacher much like legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, with no detail overlooked. That never changed. Wootten was probably prouder of every DeMatha senior receiving a scholarship from 1960-91 than 14 players reaching the NBA.
 
Wootten was part of the "Greatest Generation" and certainly earned his spot. Wootten's impact in Washington basketball and life will truly mark his greatness for many coming years.
 
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks

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