Sara Strasser rated it it was amazing · review of another edition
Twelve Might Orphans tells the inspiring story of a group of orphans growing up in the Masonic Home during depression-era Texas. I was fully prepared to dislike this book, as Texas football culture is not exactly my thing, but I actually thought this book was fantastic! Even if you are not into football, or even sports in general, this is a truly inspiring story.
The book begins with a man, Rusty Russell, who decides to create a football program at the Masonic Home for Orphans. The school does Twelve Might Orphans tells the inspiring story of a group of orphans growing up in the Masonic Home during depression-era Texas. I was fully prepared to dislike this book, as Texas football culture is not exactly my thing, but I actually thought this book was fantastic! Even if you are not into football, or even sports in general, this is a truly inspiring story.
The book begins with a man, Rusty Russell, who decides to create a football program at the Masonic Home for Orphans. The school does not have a single football and the children do not wear shoes for six months of the year. His players are always smaller, fewer in numbers and play without the proper equipment. However, Mr. Russell was none-the-less able to create a team that made it to four state championships. The fact that they were never able to win the Texas State Title ends up being a minor point in the grand story.
The team quickly became the Cinderella story of depression-era Texas. They had tens of thousands of fans across the state rooting for them. During a time when the whole country was looking for something to celebrate, the small football team from the orphan home became just that. “Football stadiums in the thirties did not mirror the grim conditions of the Depression. Fans wore their finest clothing to the big games and some of the women showed off expensive jewels. Most men wore a pressed gabardine suit and a fedora; practically every female on the Highland Park side donned something fashionably French from Neiman Marcus” (p. 117). The story of Mr. Russell’s Mighty Mites (as they were called by their adoring fans) provided an escape from the reality of the times.
It should be also noted that the story is far from picture-perfect. The children have all lost either one, or both parents. Many of their parents were killed, and many of the children bore witness to the crimes. The book begins with the story of Hardy Brown, who was probably the best football player to ever pass through the Masonic Home. He entered the home after his father was brutally murdered in front of him and his mother ran off in fear of the men who murdered her husband. Physically abuse was also rampant in the home, and life was nothing short of hard. But as sports often become an outlet for the struggles faced by many youth, the football program at the Masonic home did just that. While some of the men were never able to leave behind the demons that came with them into the home, many were able to grow into successful and happy individuals.
Through the extraordinary guidance from Mr. Russell, the young men gained self-esteem and pride that carried well beyond the football stadium. “Everyone has heroes. At least everyone ought to have heroes in his life. They serve as models. They inspire us to be better than we would be otherwise. Mr. H.N. Russell was one of my heroes. Our team was just an ordinary group of boys, and only half of us weighed as much as 140 pounds. We were not bigger, stronger, or better than our opponents. What made the difference for us was Rusty Russell, a most extraordinary man. But the genius of Rusty Russell was in this ability to make every boy a giant in his own eyes. His memory will remain fresh and green with us. We acknowledge again our debt to you this day” (p. 261). This was a statement made by one of Mr. Russell’s former players, Abner McCall, at Mr. Russell’s funeral. Mr. McCall became the president of Baylor University.
Even if you are not a football fan, or even a sports fan, I highly recommend this book. It is an inspiring story about a very different place and time in our history. It tells a very interesting and amazing story of a group of young men who beat the odds.