In January 1997, Morgan Wootten received a phone call from a publisher asking if he would be interested in writing his second autobiography. As of Sunday, Wootten had presided over 1,144 victories and five mythical national championships during his 42 seasons as coach at DeMatha Catholic High in Hyattsville, Md. He has written four coaching manuals, and having published an autobiography, From Orphans to Champions, in 1979, he was initially reluctant to do another. "But then I thought of all the things that have happened," says Wootten, 66, "and I thought there were some stories worth telling."
In fact Wootten's story has never been more worth telling. His life was granted a miraculous sequel on July 10, 1996, when lie received a liver transplant three days after collapsing in a men's room at his basketball camp in Emmitsburg, Md. Wootten had been diagnosed in '92 with primary biliary cirrhosis, a rare liver disease found mosdy in women. He surely would have died following his collapse had a suitable donor not been quickly found, but one was, and he was back on the job for DeMatha's first practice of the 1996-97 season. Save for the antirejection pills he takes twice a day, his routine has been unchanged. "Actually, I feel better than I have in 15 or 20 years," he says. "My liver was eating away at me for a long time. The last few years I was constantly fatigued."
Since the transplant Wootten has worked diligently to promote organ-donor awareness. His efforts helped produce a memorable event last Thursday night, when DeMatha, at the time ranked No. 2 in the nation by USA Today, played then 14th-ranked Anderson ( Ind.) High at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C., to benefit the Mid-Atlantic Coalition on organ donation. The game drew a crowd of 9,112 and generated a load of publicity, in part because Anderson's coach, 42-year-old Ron Hecklinski, had undergone a liver transplant too.
The game was a tense one: DeMatha guard Keith Bogans, one of the top juniors in the nation, scored 30 points, but Anderson, led by senior guard Eric Bush's 14 points and seven steals, won 68-63. The final score, however, seemed irrelevant. "There were no losers tonight," Wootten said afterward.
Wootten's guests at DeMatha's games often include the family of Rochelle McCoy, the Pasadena, Md., woman whose liver keeps him alive. McCoy was 33 when she died from a brain aneurysm, and her husband, Ray, and their 10-year-old twins, Randall and Ray, have formed a bond with the coach. In fact, his second autobiography, A Coach for All Seasons, is dedicated to Rochelle, and in it he encourages readers to be organ donors. "We all leave this world at some point," he says. "What greater present can you give than the gift of life? I was certainly confronted with my own mortality. I looked it right in the face, and I'm still here."