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 he
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 mostly 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."
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN NEW LEASE A liver transplant saved Wootten's life in 1996. [Morgan Wootten]