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Diary of a Mad Sportswriter: Hudy Head book review: Twelve Mighty Orphans shines

Diary of a Mad Sportswriter

Stan Hudy is a sportswriter for The Saratogian and Community News. He covers high school and youth sports in the Saratoga County area as well as writing a weekly book review on sports books. He's not just a "stick and ball" sportswriter, he's willing to take on any sport as well as any subject.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hudy Head book review: Twelve Mighty Orphans shines

Twelve Mighty Orphans
By Jim Dent
St. Martin’s Griffin
304 pages

Jim Dent, an accomplished journalist and author of “The Junction Boys” has put together another best-seller with his latest work, “Twelve Mighty Orphans.”

Dent takes the reader back to the end of the roaring ‘20s and the beginning of the depression at the Masonic Home in Fort Worth, Texas. It was the home of any child that lost a parent(s) who were due-paying members of the Grand Lodge of Free Masons in good-standing. They would have a home until graduation.

Dedicated in 1899 the Masonic Home went from a home for wayward children to the highlight of Texas football and captured the hearts of millions of Americans thanks to the vision of its first-ever football coach Rusty Russell.

Russell arrived with no fanfare to an institution that was focused on discipline, education and was filled with young boys who went barefoot for eight months of the year and had never even seen a regulation football or played the gridiron contest.

Russell saw the job as an educator and a football coach, continuing to bring discipline to the young boys lives and institute a game that he had a passion for.

During his 15 years as the Masons coach, Russell not only brought this band of brothers to the forefront of Texas football, but also drew the hearts of America to the 12 man-squad that played at the highest levels of Texas football.

Always out-manned, the Masonic Home rarely had more than 12 players suited up, or as suited up as the continually broke football program had. The Mighty Mites were always outweighed as the Masons moved up into higher and higher classes to eventually play for a Texas state title.

“Twelve Mighty Orphans” is as much about football as it is a look at the turn of the previous century in America, from prohibition, the oil boom in Texas to the stock market crash and the nation’s entry into its First World War Along the way, Mason football players come alive in Dent’s work both on the stone and dirt gridiron and in the halls of the Masonic Home.

Several anecdotes will stay with the reader as Dent delivers in a smooth style of how precious material things were to the young orphans, types of mischief the players could get themselves into and the devotion of the people who surrounded the Mighty Mites program.

In the Mighty Mites first official contest against Mineral Wells, Russell approached the opposing coach prior to kickoff and asked if his visiting squad was lucky enough to win the game, could they keep the game ball as a souvenir. The Mighty Mites won the contest and garnered their first official football, not as a trophy, but something to use at practice versus the Clabber Girl Baking Powder cans shaped like football that the team has used early on.

One humorous story involved an overweight duck that wandered onto the practice field and wasn’t phased by the action going on around it. The duck was too fat to fly away and became an unofficial mascot, smuggled on an away trip and stayed with the team as long as it won. A loss in the district championship ended the hopes of a state title and the usefulness of the duck.

The Mighty Mites fought their opposition with never-ending desire to capture an AA championship; they fought each other as well as anyone else who called players “orphans” and the Texas Interscholastic League that attempted to keep the Mighty Mites out of title contention.

Games are won, titles are in hand and the Mighty Mites of the Masonic Home will again enter your heart more than 80 years later as Dent brings their story to light 80 years later in “Twelve Mighty Orphans.”

4 ½ Hudy Heads out of Five



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