The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

DeMatha’s Morgan Wootten featured in film as ‘The Godfather of Basketball’

Coach Morgan Wootten led DeMatha High basketball during  a 1965 game in which it upset New York City’s Power Memorial and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor). The event sold out Cole Field House at the University of Maryland. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Filmmaker Bill Hayes and college basketball assistant coach 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 coaches in the high school 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.

His teams won five high school national championships and 22 Washington, D.C. titles and never lost more than two games in a row. According to the film, over a 30-year period, every player who came through his basketball team earned a college scholarship. He invented the modern “charging” offensive foul and the concept of the fast break.

The day DeMatha basketball toppled Power Memorial

Before Wootten, when defenders stole the ball, they just stood there.

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  professionally. He spurned an $800,000 contract from North Carolina 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 for $4.99 or purchase for $12.99 on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.