LARGO – The influence and legacy of former DeMatha basketball coach Morgan Wootten is ever-present in Prince George’s County, with no better example than a private screening of the documentary about his life at AMC Magic Johnson Capital Center 12 Theater on Oct. 25 made possible by a local youth empowerment group and film producer.
“Morgan Wootten: The Godfather of Basketball” details the life of the legendary coach while examining his impact on those around him. Charles Smalley, president of the eMPAS Group and Prince George’s County Public Schools Film Director Dwayne Brown of D. Brown Productions put on the event to spread the values exhibited in the documentary, supporting the venture as a way to promote success for those who become professionals in something besides sports or entertainment.
“The reason why we’re here tonight is to tell you about opportunities not only on the court, but around the court,” Brown said. “There are other opportunities out there for us. The opportunity for you to learn and to see there are other opportunities around the game. That’s what I want you to take from this.
Smalley opened the evening by introducing eMPAS, which stands for Engagement, Mentorship, Parent Involvement, Academic and Behavioral Support and Social-Emotional Learning. The organization is a nonprofit focusing on at-risk youth ages 14-21. It encourages students to express themselves through the arts, and works with PGCPS on an anti-bullying campaign. Smalley described himself as the commercial before the feature presentation, playing a clip about eMPAS then a short film by PGCPS student Daniel Coleman about dealing with bullying.
“We continue to try to grow in communities,” Smalley said. “We want to be able to reach as many schools as we can. If you’re in a high school or you’re in a middle school and you’re experiencing issues with behavior, please give us a contact.”
Founded in 2010, eMPAS was created to address harassment and intimidation in PGCPS. It now conducts weekly student groups, peer-to-peer mediation and monthly in-service trainings within the school system through the My hArt Annual School Program, along with the Empty Reel Film Festival and Safe Summer Tour via partnerships with AMC Theaters and Prince George’s County Parks & Recreation, respectively.
The documentary was developed by Thunder Mountain Media and Figure 8 Films, both founded by executive producer Bill Hayes. Released in March 2017, it follows the career path of Wootten with commentary from the many coaches and players who learned from him and went on to significant personal achievements. The film features interviews from a litany of accomplished college coaches, including University of Notre Dame’s Mike Brey, Roy Williams of North Carolina University and Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski. Brey is one of the many former players from Wootten’s 46 years at Dematha to speak about his experiences, along with NBA Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley, CBS broadcaster James Brown, NCAA National Champion Sidney Lowe and a host of other successful athletes.
Aside from Wootten himself, no one is featured more heavily than Glen Arden’s Dereck Whittenburg, who joined Hayes as executive producer and was in attendance at the screening. The former North Carolina State University star played with Lowe on one of Wootten’s two undefeated teams. After a decade of coaching, he returned to North Carolina State as Associate AD/Community Relations and Student Support. Whittenburg shared his appreciation for the event, praising Smalley and Brown for their work in the community.
“I grew up in this neighborhood, and I’m really touched by how this organization, Dwayne Brown, everybody’s impact on young people,” Whittenburg said. “I’m here about the 99 percent. The 99 percent of individuals that don’t go pro, don’t go into entertainment, but can be successful in whatever they choose to do in life.”
Whittenburg fielded questions following the screening, and explained the project came about because of a chance encounter with Hayes on a plane. The pair struck up a conversation and agreed to develop the film after realizing their shared interest in Wootten and his legacy. Whittenburg has ample experience in the film industry, working on projects ESPN’s “Survive and Advance” and “The Gospel According to Mac,” and showcased an Emmy Award from the former while he spoke about the documentary.
Prince George’s County Council Member Andrea Harrison followed Whittenburg and presented him with a proclamation from the local government. She then lauded the film for its representation of Wootten and the community.
“This is a great place and this is a great story to tell, that is the story of Prince George’s County,” Harrison said. “I challenge each and every one of you to go out and tell the great story of Prince George’s County, to tell our story.”
There was a proclamation for Wootten as well, but he was unable to attend due to a prior obligation. The documentary is available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play. Donations to eMPAS can be made on their website.