Before the 7th Annual DC Touchdown Club 3M Awards Dinner, WTOP is taking a closer look at this year’s award recipients. First up, legendary DeMatha Catholic High School basketball coach Morgan Wootten.
Wootten is being inducted into the DC Touchdown Club’s Circle of Legends this year for his lesser known efforts as a football coach.
“I didn’t even think I was going to be a coach. I thought I was going to be a lawyer.”
Morgan Wootten is so synonymous with D.C. high school basketball over the last half century that it’s difficult to imagine just how different the sport might look had he ended up plying his trade in court instead of on the court. But he faced another more practical, real decision that could have forever changed his legacy and the Washington sports landscape.
Wootten also used to coach football. It’s the reason he’s being honored by the D.C. Touchdown Club this spring. He played both sports in high school and was recruited to coach both at St. John’s Orphanage in Foggy Bottom for two years, then was the JV coach for both sports at St. John’s for three years before getting the same dual sport role at DeMatha Catholic High School in 1956.
“Almost in every case, they, too, had the same guy as their head football coach as they did their head basketball coach,” Wootten told WTOP.
He took over a DeMatha team that had withdrawn from Washington Catholic Athletic League play before his arrival and lifted them to a 79-40-2 record, including three league titles over 12 years at the helm. His 1964 team ran the table and featured two running backs who would go on to start in the NFL, Brendan McCarthy and Garrett Ford.
But as both sports grew in popularity at the prep level, suddenly the landscape changed. By the early ‘70s, when Wootten looked across the gridiron at his peers, they were all different from the basketball coaches he competed against in the winter.
“All of the sudden, I think I was the last guy coaching both in the league,” said Wootten.
So he had to pick.
“My greater love was basketball, so I went that way,” said Wootten. “But I loved them both.”
It’s hard to argue with the way it all turned out. After 1,274 career victories, 33 WCAC titles and five mythical national championships, Wootten became the first high school coach ever inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000.
Wootten’s legacy extends beyond those gaudy numbers in a much more tangible way today. His coaching tree has branches that reach throughout high school and college basketball. While Notre Dame’s Mike Brey might be the most recognizable name, Joe Mihalich just led Hofstra to a 27-win season.
There are also several assistants at solid programs with DeMatha roots: Mike Pegues at Louisville, Ron Everhart at West Virginia, Perry Clark at South Carolina, Duane Simpkins at George Mason, Chris Parsons at UNC Greensboro. More than anything else in the game anymore, Wootten takes pleasure in watching those disciples succeed.
“There’s so many of them,” said Wootten, who mostly engages with the game these days through schools where he has those personal connections. “Staying in touch with them is always a lot of fun.”
As for this year’s NCAA Tournament, Wootten was coy about making a prediction, saying merely that there were many great players and coaches, and that he was looking forward to watching. But even as the game has changed and grown over the years, his biggest piece of advice for young players feels as useful as ever in 2019.
“Don’t let basketball use you. You use basketball to become the best all-around human being you can become,” he said.
“That’s the beauty of basketball. Basketball can make you a better person, a better student, a better player, everything. Because all the fundamentals of basketball are the fundamentals of life: Working hard, getting back up after you get knocked down, bouncing back from a loss when things didn’t go well, being able to know what you do best, know what your weaknesses are, your strengths are, how to work with others.”
The 2019 DC Touchdown Club 3M Awards Dinner takes place Thursday, Apr. 18 at Congressional Country Club. For more information or to buy tickets, go to dctouchdownclub.com.