Mr. Wootten's third-period class will now begin. Mr. Wootten is middle-aged, slightly paunchy, wears glasses and looks every bit the high school history teacher he is. Not the kind you might see on Welcome Back, Kotter, but then, how often does life truly imitate art?
Mr. Wootten is standing at the lectern in the front of the room. To his left are a blackboard and a map of the world. Seated before him are 35 ninth-graders, all boys, all wearing the standard ensemble for freshmen and sophomores at DeMatha High—blue blazer, gray slacks and necktie. Of course, not all of the ties are straight or pulled tight to the neck, and many of the hairstyles are girlishly long. But these aren't Sweathogs by any means. They are quietly attentive and eager to participate. Mr. Wootten is demanding but also personable and approachable, and he never lets the class get dull.
Today's lecture is on the Age of Exploration. It isn't really so much a lecture as a lively student-teacher dialogue. Mr. Wootten believes in class participation. When you come to Mr. Wootten's class, gentlemen, you had better be prepared.
Magellan, Vespucci, da Gama, Balboa, Columbus...and so on until the end of the hour.
Among the 45 faculty members at DeMatha High in the Washington suburb of Hyattsville, Md.. few rank higher in the annual teacher evaluations than 47-year-old Morgan Wootten. He has been at DeMatha since graduating from the University of Maryland in 1956; he knows his material. He also knows how to get it across and how to keep his students involved and under control. Those are the characteristics of any good teacher—and of any good coach. Oh, yes, Wootten coaches, too. When he began his coaching career 28 years ago, his St. Joseph's Home for Boys baseball team did not win a game. The next fall, his football team did not lose one. Defeats have been rare ever since.
Although Wootten has coached three different sports at three different institutions during a career that dates back to his days as a junior-college student, he has made his reputation with the DeMatha basketball team. Midway through his 23rd season, Wootten has won 88% of his 697 games. Last season the Stags were 39-0, including a 12-game tour of Brazil, and they won their 15th Metro Conference championship, fifth national Catholic high school championship and fourth national high school championship. Over the years nine of Wootten's boys have gone on to play professionally and 12 have become college or high school coaches. Even more impressive is the fact that since 1961 every DeMatha senior, starter or substitute, 5'1" to 6'8", has been offered a college athletic scholarship.
These achievements are especially remarkable considering the limited talent pools available for high school sports; a coach can draw only from among the kids who live in or reasonably close to his area. Many men in the profession count themselves fortunate to have one great team or one great player in their careers. Wootten has produced both in bunches.
"This is the best high school program in the country," says Jack Bruen, Wootten's assistant for the last seven years. "Working with Morgan is like being with John Wooden." Bruen is probably correct on both counts. Wootten and Wooden do have more in common than just the sound of their names. And Bruen has almost been a Bruin all his life.
Wootten has been directing the Stags for half of his, despite coaching offers from Georgetown and American University and feelers from Duke, Wake Forest and Virginia. He has stayed in Hyattsville because he prefers to live with his wife and five children in the area where he was raised and because he failed to get the one college job he ever really wanted—at Maryland, which is located two miles away.