Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Family and spirituality

Missing Coach Wootten, brothers Corrigan and others, but warmed by new life

Baltimore’s legendary Corrigan clan included, from left, brothers Dick, George, Gene and Jimmy. (Courtesy Lee Corrigan)

An unusually mild January nonetheless left me chilled, by too many deaths.

The day after Kobe Bryant perished, I lost a barstool friend, Johnny Banach. There was the passing of Marion Hopkins, the widow of the late Annapolis mayor and sports editor who gave me an entry into the field of newspapering, and my daily ritual with the Irish sports pages brought a double-take Jan. 24.

Reading the obituaries in The Sun, I took in a tribute to Chris Allen, a tax expert who helped create the Section 529 college savings plan. It included the fact that he had played soccer and lacrosse on championship teams at Meade High School in the 1970s. I don’t remember him, but I saw him play. Alongside that Jacques Kelly byline was the paid death notice for Mary Elizabeth Brocato, aka Bette, who, as a pastoral associate at St. Brigid in Canton, was instrumental in the parish’s Preakness fundraiser.

Brocato and Hopkins lived long, full lives, as did two sporting patriarchs who were remarkably kind to ink-stained wretches.

Morgan Wootten, shown coaching DeMatha Catholic High in 1998, was always steered by his Catholic faith. (CNS photo/Michael Hoyt, Catholic Standard)

Morgan Wootten, probably the most famous high school coach ever, had already put DeMatha Catholic High School on the map in December 1982, when, after a loss to Dunbar High at the Towson Center, he provided quotable gold by sharing that the Poets were the best high school basketball team he had ever seen. Two decades later, when I was writing “Maryland Basketball: Tales from Cole Field House,” he was incredibly generous discussing his alma mater, which was set to hire him in 1969 if Lefty Driesell hadn’t taken the job. Six years ago, when the Review featured the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament, it was Coach Wootten who got the last word.

His death didn’t get the same notice as Wootten’s, but Gene Corrigan was just as influential and an equally devout Catholic, so much so that he took a pay cut to leave the University of Virginia to become the athletic director at the University of Notre Dame All Corrigan did there was hire Lou Holtz. All he did as commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference was transform the college football landscape. Not bad for a guy who told me, in a 1997 profile for The Sun, that the only reason he got into athletics at Loyola High was so he could shower every day. (For more about Gene’s self-deprecating manner and legacy, check out John Feinstein’s tribute in the Washington Post.

Corrigan began his college career by coaching soccer, basketball and lacrosse at Washington & Lee, and ended it by asking how in the world can coaching lacrosse, like his son, Kevin, has done at Notre Dame since 1988, be a fulltime job? The last time I saw Gene was a few years ago at the Baltimore Convention Center, during bib pick-up for the Baltimore Running Festival. What I consider Baltimore’s best day is organized by Corrigan Sports Enterprises, founded by one of Gene’s nephews, Lee. They are all part of a remarkable clan.

Blake Corrigan was added to a large extended family with deep Baltimore roots Jan. 28. (Courtesy Lee Corrigan)

Gene was the second of six siblings born to Hank and Cleta Corrigan – none more prominent in the Archdiocese of Baltimore than the youngest, Mary D’Ambrogi, who served cardinals and governors and dabbled in coaching herself. There’s was a feisty dinner table, one that included another sister, Peggy Stegman. The four boys couldn’t even agree on a high school, as Gene and George went to Loyola High, and Jimmy and Dick to Poly.

Playing lacrosse for the University of Maryland, Dick Corrigan won acclaim as the nation’s best attackman. He coached at the Naval Academy and Yale, served as an administrator at the University of Pennsylvania, worked in sales in Massachusetts, and was residing outside Ocean City when he died Nov. 6. He lived in a lot of places. Why, his son, Lee, was asked, was his memorial service Thanksgiving weekend at St. Mary of the Assumption in Govans?

“We wanted to do it in Baltimore, and that’s where the family went to church when he was a little boy,” Lee Corrigan said. “He went to the parish school there.”

Lee Corrigan was still mourning his father when his Uncle Gene died Jan. 25. (A wake for the latter, will be held, fittingly enough, at Charlottesville (Va.) Catholic School Feb. 7.) Those were lives to be celebrated.

All of that loss was tempered, as it often is, by another life to toast Jan. 28, when Blake Corrigan, son of Ryan, made Lee Corrigan a first-time grandfather.

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