When Morgan Wootten walked into his first period history class yesterday, the first thing he saw was a message scrawled in chalk on the blackboard: "Mr. Wootten, while your wallet may not be busting with money, your heart is busting with love for De Matha."
Wootten had surprised many Washingtonians Saturday when he rejected a reported five-year contract worth $700,000 to coach basketball at North Carolina State and said he was remaining at De Matha High.
Students, faculty members and friends at the Hyattsville Catholic school were elated he had chosen to stay. All morning, Wootten, in his 24th year at De Matha and the most successful high school coach in the area (his record is 649-92), was busy shaking hands, answering phones, opening letters and preparing to return the dozens of messages he has received since announcing he would not go to N. C. State.
"I even got a call from John Austin, one of my first all-Americans (1961). He said he didn't want to get involved while I was making my decision," said Wooten. "But he said I had done the right thing."
Wootten was positive he had made the right decision.
"The last week, when the rumors wre really flying and the report I was being offered that much money, was really hectic," said Wootten. "The only way we (his family) preserved our sanity was to listen to the jokes and one-liners the kids made. When my daughter Carol picked up the paper that morning and saw that $700,000 figure, she asked does that mean she could give up her paper route. She was serious."
Wootten said the offer was flattering and that he had gone through a lot of soul-searching before making his final decision.
"I flew down to Wake Forest when that job was open a while ago, but it was nothing like this," said Wootten. "Everyone offered advice and I talked to a lot of people. But mostly, there were a lot of laughs. It feels nice to be wanted."
Last week in an assembly, De Matha Principal John Moylan asked the students to show Wootten their appreciation. The students stood and applauded for more than 10 minutes.
"I cried like a baby," said De Matha secretary, Nancy Westover. "It was touching. We're so glad he stayed. Deep down I never felt he would leave. I know we've received more phone calls in the last week than we have gotten in a long time. I don't know what we would have done without him. Those kids need him more than the college kids."
Wootten said it was the soft-sell approach of two of his former players -- State's Sidney Lowe and Dereck Whitfenburg -- that made him give the offer so much thought.
"Both Sid and Dereck, along with Hawkeye Whitney (a De Matha graduate who is a senior at State), called me, but there was not pressure from them," Wootten said. "But Sid would love for me to come. And with he and Whit there, that made the offer more attractive."
Many of the students, particularly those in Wootten's classes and on the basketball team, believed Wootten would stay at De Matha.
"He teaches about principles, priorities, and money is not one of them," said freshman Chris Murphy. "If he really believed in those things, then he wouldn't leave."
Charles Minor, a junior on the 23-4 Stag team, said "I'm glad he stayed for selfish reasons. We were glad he got the offer, because it shows what people think of him as a coach."
The Wootten mystique was obvious as he stolled down the hall en route to his class. The students giggled, pointed and many sauntered over to shake hands.
During one of his classes, two students in the hall offered their versions of why Wootten had decided to remain.
"I told you he wouldn't leave," said one student, opening his locker. "Besides, he wouldn't want to go out as a loser (De Matha lost the city title game to Spingarn).
"If it was the Maryland job, he would've taken it."
"That's the job he might leave for," agreed the other.
Moylan, who arived at De Matha with Wootten in 1956, said he was delighted his coach was staying because he would have had thousands of applicants for his coaching job.
"I would have hated to go through theprocess of picking a coach," said Moylan. "Actually, I'm glad he stayed for a number of reasons. One, he is a fine teacher and, two, his leadership -- he is the athletic director -- gives us a first-class athletic department. Morgan sets the tone by which the other coaches operate. He relates very well with the kids, parents and the press."
Charles (Buck) Offutt, Wootten's longtime friend, said he would have been sorry had Wootten left, but at the same time would have been glad to see Wootten enhance his career in coaching.
"During the entire ordeal, Morgan didn't change," said Offutt, De Matha English teacher. "He gets offers every two or three years. When this one came about, most of us said, 'Oh, here we go again.'"
After his last class yesterday, Wootten returned to his office outside the gymnasium to get back to the business of coaching his high school basketball team.
"I've gotten a little behind," he said. "We still have three games left (in the Cumberland tournament) so we have to practice.
"Then I have my clinics, basketball camps and our banquet. This is my home and I can't see uprooting my family, at least until they (his children) are in college.
"Throughout, the vote in my family was about four to one against. My daughters, Cathy, Carol, Tricia, and Son Brendan were against leaving while my youngest son, Joey, wanted to go. He's only 7 and had no idea where North Carolina was. My wife, Kathy, just said, 'Be sure.'"