Thursday, March 17, 2011

Heel or Hero? Half an Inch Can Make the Difference...

Rusty Russell's philosophy of coaching can be gleaned from Channel 8 interview conducted in Dallas in his retirement years when he and Nita enjoyed watching football games from the comfort of their home. He was 86 at the time of the interview.

"Half an inch one way or the other can make a heel or a hero out of you," he often said to his kids in teaching them the importance of doing your best.

"I worked 24 hours a day if necessary...to prepare a team to win a ball game. I wanted to do everything possible, of course I made a lot of mistakes. If it didn't turn out right I didn't lose any sleep, I sat down and ate a good meal and went to sleep and I believe in that. I tell my kids and I always have, you give your best, you give your all out there and when you do that, you don't have to apologize to anybody. That's my ticket."

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1940 Team...


The September 1940 team included: front row, left to right, Ray Coulter, Billy Joe Cagle, Dewitt Coulter, Curtis Robbins, Floyd Lewis, Cecil Moseley and Leonard Roach; back row, left to right: Hardy Brown, Clyde Roberts, C.D. Sealey and Basel Smith.

JUST IN THIS PHOTO OF 11, the accomplishments beyond The Home are amazing. Ray Coulter and DeWitt Coulter are in the Texas High School Hall of Fame, and Dewitt is also in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. Brownie Lewis was a starter at SMU and was drafted by the Green Bay Packers. Billy Joe Cagle enlisted and served at Iwo Jima, was wounded twice, and received two separate Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star. He played on scholarship at the University of Tulsa and was named All-Conference. Clyde Roberts went to North Texas on a football scholarship, enlisted in the Marines, started as a Private and ended up a Lt. Colonel. He was decorated 11 times after serving in WWII, Korea,Vietnam, and among those awards, was the Bronze Star. Hardy Brown was named All-Conference at Tulsa, then played 12 years of pro football. C.D. "Wheatie" Sealey was decorated and wounded in WWII and then served as a coach and educator for 40 years in Fort Worth. Doug Lord isn't in that photo but was on that team and went on to manage a World Boxing Champion, gain a bachelors and graduate degree and attain the level of Brigadier General in the Air Force.

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Golden Memories of Bygone Seasons...



Rusty Russell's gold football charm at top has been handed down through the family for 90 years. It commemorates his election to the All T.I.A.A. (Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association) Football Team as an end in 1921. In addition it commemorates his team conference championship that year.

Mighty Mite Walter "Sleepy" Finigan, #21, passed away in September of 2007 just a couple of days after receiving a signed copy of the book Twelve Mighty Orphans. His grandson, Jody Vincik of Gun Barrel City, Texas, kindly sent us photos of his Masonic Home jewelry - a watch, ring and football charm -- that are posted above with permission. The ring is from the class of 1942.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Old Blue...

When it was time to load up and go play an "away" game, the football team scrambled up in Old Blue, similar to this 1926 Model T flat bed truck, and chugged off regardless of the weather. It was all that was available to transport the kids at The Masonic Home.

Dr. E.P. Hall, "Doc Hall", the team doctor who donated all of his time and love to take care of the orphans, would ride in the cab with Rusty Russell. Old Blue is just as much a character as anyone else in the story of the 12 Mighty Orphans.

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mean Hardy Brown...



















After witnessing his father's murder at close range at age four, Hardy Brown arrived at the Masonic Home with his brother and sister. He spent his entire childhood there and played football on the Mighty Mite team. He died in 1991 at age 67.

In an interview Rusty Russell recalled Hardy's transition after he left The Home. Hardy went on to become a Marine paratrooper and afterwards he wanted to fulfill his college ambitions. DeWitt Coulter, his Mighty Mite buddy, got him to come to West Point to play football with him. It didn't work out at West Point and Hardy called Mr. Russell.

Henry Frnka had been a coach at a highschool in Texas and was at that time a coach at University of Tulsa. Russell knew the kind of coach Frnka was, knew Frnka personally, and he felt Hardy would fit into Frnka's system. Russell called Frnka on Hardy's behalf. Based on his conversation with Russell, Frnka offered Hardy a scholarship. Hardy had a successful career at the University of Tulsa before entering the NFL.

When he was in Tulsa, a newspaper ran the photo above of Hardy when he played fullback at Tulsa University and was a contender for All-American. As his wife, Betty looked on, he claimed he could iron a shirt in less than two minutes. Whether he learned that at the Home or not, we can't say.

He played professionally for the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins, and the Denver Broncos. He was one of only two men who played in the All-America Football Conference, the National Football League, and the American Football League.

At The Home he was surrounded by his family. Perhaps that was the best thing in his life and when thrown into the world of football, he survived as best he knew how. He would say in his pro career he had 75 - 80 knock outs and everyone was out to get him. For those who knew Hardy at The Home, he was in a place where he felt safe and no one was "out to get him".

He was named #5 of the Top Ten Most Feared Tacklers and Washington Post's Matt Schudel writing in his Post Mortem blog about the hardest hitters in football, noted that Hardy cherished his tough NFL reputation. Hardy was 6' and at 190 lbs played linebacker. Interviews with sports figures for a special on the Top Ten Tacklers thought his mean streak and violent nature was "shaped at the Masonic Home for orphans in Fort Worth Texas, a rough and tumble place" and some thought "Hardy channeled his frustrations through football and "he was going to make people pay for it". He had a special move where he threw his shoulder into opponents. "It's like a boxer, take one step forward, keep your back straight, keep your eyes forward, and ...... (pop your shoulder)....and that's it," Hardy said, showing how he does that.

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Mighty Mites: Top All-Time Texas Football Story


It happened between 73 and 83 years ago, and today the story, Mighty Mites capture the hearts of Americans, ranked #31 in the list of the Top 100 Top North Texas Football Memories. Nearly 750,000 votes were cast in the North Texas Super Bowl Host Committee's "Century in the Making" project, which was set up to find the top 100 football moments.

High School football began in Texas with the "Interscholastic League" formation in 1913. That Same year, the "Texas Interscholastic Athletic Association" or the "TIAA" was formed for College athletics in Texas and over the next few years schools like Texas, Texas A&M, SMU, TCU, Baylor, Rice and a little known school in Brownwood ,Texas, Howard Payne University all joined in.

Rusty Russell began playing football at Howard Payne Academy (high school level) in 1913 and that year the University of Texas won the TIAA Football Championship for colleges. Russell eventually began playing at Howard Payne University lettering in football, basketball, baseball and track. He captained the football and basketball teams and was All Conference in both of those sports. His Howard Payne football team won the TIAA conference Championship in 1921 and he was named best all around athlete at Howard Payne later his senior year when he graduated in 1922.

With all of those years of High School, College and Pro (lest we forget our Cowboys), there was certainly no shortage of great moments. When you consider that TCU won the NCAA National Championship in Football in 1935 and 1938, and rival SMU won 3 National Championships - one in the mid 1930's, and again in 1981 and 1982. Then of course The University of Texas has 4 National titles (1963, 1969, 1970, 2005), that's enough to fill at least 100 top memories. You would have to add in there Hall of Famer Slingin' Sammy Baugh from TCU, and several Heisman Trophy winners , among them Davy O'Brien at TCU and Doak Walker at SMU (who was coached by Rusty Russell at both high school and college levels). How about LaDanian Tomlinson from TCU or Eric Dickerson at SMU? One would have to throw in the 5 SUPERBOWL Championships for the Dallas Cowboys. That then opens the door for the on field heroics of Dandy Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and the list goes on.

It is a legendary story that everyone loves. How could you not?

photo

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Crazy, Stinky, Skinny Well-Fed:Nicknames

When new kids came into The Home, they were given a "Big Kid" for a buddy. Often these led to life-long bonds stronger than those of siblings. New kids also gained nicknames and many nicknames stuck for life.

Some of those nicknames include: Buster, Wheatie (ate nine bowls of Wheaties cereal in a challenge), Wink, Snoggs, Fat Lord, Brownie (big brown eyes), Little Dick (because there was already a Big Dick), Sleepy, Hootie, Killer Underwood, Shorty, Crazy, Stinky, Moe, Monkey, and many others. Skinny Well-Fed gained his nickname when he wrote his mother a postcard telling her that he came to The Home "skinny and now I'm well-fed". Someone read the postcard and from then on he was Skinny Well-Fed.

They called each other "Home Kids" while outsiders called them orphans. They called each other family. Forever.

photo

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Superbowl: Fort Worth & The Spread Offense

The Spread Offense, which we'll see Sunday in the Superbowl, originated with the team of mighty orphans in Fort Worth at The Masonic Home, an invention of Rusty Russell (Jim Dent writes about them in his book Twelve Mighty Orphans). It's exciting to think of this strategy being used all these years later by professional teams and watched by millions.

Fort Worth is buzzing with football excitement. The Superbowl will be played just 11 miles east of downtown in the new Cowboy Stadium. The Steelers are set up in the new Omni Hotel and practicing at TCU's stadium, ESPN is set up and running in downtown's Sundance Square. Some say this town has gone football crazy like it was in the '30s when the scraggly scrawny Mighty Mites, using new play strategies to beat bigger teams, were drawing sell-out crowds at Farrington Field (above) and TCU had undefeated teams and won two national championships.

When TCU won in the inaugural Cotton Bowl game in 1937, their starting backfield consisted of future Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh and three former Mighty Mites: Harold McClure, Glen "Donkey" Roberts, and Scott McCall. Former Mighty Mite Allie White also played on that TCU team. TCU won the National Championship the next year in 1938. The Masonic Home football alumni had learned the spread offense under Rusty Russell before they went on to play at TCU.

In fact, says Russell's grandson, Russell Morton, who is involved in developing the movie based on Dent's book, from the time Russell arrived in the late 1920s at the Masonic Home, "Mr. and Mrs. Russell enjoyed a very close friendship with TCU coaching legend Leo "Dutch" Meyer and his wife, playing bridge on a regular basis as couples and sharing their love of football and strategy." In 1952 Meyer wrote a book detailing his ideas about football formations entitled Spread Formation Football, in which the first sentence was, "Spread formations are not new to football," and they certainly weren't to Meyer who had benefited from a steady flow of Mighty Mites who had been running Russell's spread offense since the late 1920s. Meyer had been an assistant coach at TCU when Russell first came to Fort Worth and Meyer became TCU's head coach in 1934.

Fort Worth has been feverishly lovin' the TCU Frogs like they loved their winning teams in the 30s and remembering the city's football sports history. Some say the spread offense has created parity among college football teams. As just one of the strategies for the little Davids at the Masonic Home playing against Big Goliath teams, the spread offense has had a long life from its beginnings at the orphanage in Fort Worth.


Mighty Mights at Farrington Field photo

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Little Mites

The Masonic Home football program started in 1927. Most of the boys had never seen a football which was just fine because they didn't have one to start with. They used a Clabber Girl baking power can stuffed into a sock and taped together for their first football. Rusty Russell instituted sports for everyone, girls (tennis at first) and boys (football at first). Other sports were added later along with academic competitions like Debate and Speech.

Wheatie Sealey came to The Home two years after football did when he was six. "Someone handed me a football and said I was going to be on the 75-lb team and I'd never seen a football team in my life. Most of the time we played barefooted and back in that time we all wore coveralls. The boys on the high school team were our heroes." The little Milk Slimes played an annual game against the big Milk Slimes. Every Saturday they would play other local teams, usually elementary and junior high school teams at Sycamore Park.

"We always thought we could beat 'em," said Wheatie. "We came up from the 75-lb team only thinking we were supposed to win. That's what we thought. People always said those boys were so much bigger and we said yeah, but didn't ever think that we couldn't beat them. We always thought we could beat anybody. Didn't make any difference who they were or how big they were. We thought we could beat them."

Little Mites photo

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Wheatie Sealey, Coach, Teacher, Mite

Charles Drew "C.D." Sealey died December 11, 2010 at age 87. He was known to his Masonic Home family as "Wheatie" because when he first came to the orphanage right after he had turned six, he took on the challenge of seeing who could eat the most bowls of cereal and he won, acquiring his nickname from thenceforth. He ate nine bowls.

When his father, a Master Mason, died, Wheatie was taken to The Masonic Home and School to be raised and educated. He was one of the youngest children there, as you couldn't enter The Home until age five. It was 1929 at the height of the Depression and he was typical of many kids who entered the home at that time when their fathers died and their mothers could no longer support their children.

Wheatie had vivid memories of entering the home. "I saw all the tall buildings. I couldn't imagine what kind of place that was, ...what kind of place I was getting into," he said. "Everyone had a big kid pal when you got there." They were protectors and disciplinarians. It was helpful to a "new kid" to be taken under the arm of an older "protector". The big kid pals became like older brothers, looking out for the younger boys and teaching them. This concept carried over to the Milk Slimes, a work chore group that Wheatie belonged to, where bigger boys initiated the younger boys who came of age to join to group who milked the cows that provided the fresh dairy products for the children. The Home Kids became like family to one another.

Mike Barr, one of the principals of 12 Productions developing the story into the movie, sat by Mighty Mite Miller Moseley at the funeral. "When his three descendants spoke to those gathered, about 75 percent of what they talked about was Sealey's time at The Home and its impact on his life," Barr said. "His daughter said that his children had hundreds of aunts and uncles -- Sealey's non-blood siblings from The Home. He was proud of his time there, always talked about it, how it shaped him and how Rusty Russell influenced him." Barr said 20 percent of the tributes given were about Sealey's years spent as a coach and there were quite a number of his players there.

H.N. "Rusty" Russell came to the home in 1927 as a teacher and administrator and he started the football program right away. Wheatie was pulled right into the football program and was a Little Mite and later part of the famous Mighty Mite teams from 1937 - 1940, that made the State Playoffs and Wheatie played quarterback. Wheatie graduated in 1941 from The Home.

Like his Mighty Mite teammate, Doug Lord, who fell in love with and later married fellow Home student Opal Worthington, Wheatie met and married his first wife Erline Alderson, also a Home Kid. He joined the Marines as a paratrooper at the beginning of World War II and returned home after being wounded. After graduating from college, at North Texas University in Denton, Texas, he became, like other Mighty Mites such as "Brownie" Lewis, a teacher and coach.

Wheatie remained in Fort Worth. "Coach Sealey" retired from the Fort Worth Independent School District in 1981. He was a sixty-year member (and past master) of Polytechnic Masonic Lodge 920 and a member of Godley Masonic Lodge. His brother, Murray, predeceased him. He is survived by two sisters, Agnes Hall of Fort Worth and Niela Shelton of Haslet, his wife of 30 years, Joella Mims Sealey, and numerous children, step-children and great-grandchildren.

links:
obit from Fort Worth Star Telegram
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

After The Home...


Rusty Russell, in January 1971, as he is inducted to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. In this photo Russell is 77 years-old and had been retired from coaching football only eight years. Coach Russell was installed to the Hall of Fame that day along with other sports notables like Jack Johnson, heavy weight champion of the world. The crowd was close to 1,000 people and included Coach Joe Paterno and his entire Penn State football team as well as Coach Darrell Royal with his Texas Longhorns whose teams would meet the next day in the 1971 Cotton Bowl Classic.

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Cowboy Hat on the Sidelines...


Masonic Home's Coach H.N. "Rusty Russell" is pictured with Notre Dame's College Hall of Fame Coach Frank Leahy in South Bend, Indiana before the kick-off of the SMU-Notre Dame game in 1951.

Coach Russell often wore this hat and this hat was donated, along with other personal effects, to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame for the new Rusty Russell exhibit. The exhibit was funded by the Masonic Home Ex-Student Association and Coach Russell's Ex-Victoria College players who also provided memorabilia.

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Hall of Fame...

The Texas Sports Hall of Fame, pictured above, is located in Waco, Texas, and houses not only the TEXAS SPORTS HALL OF FAME but also the the TEXAS HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS HALL OF FAME. From golfing's Ben Hogan, to baseball's Nolan Ryan, to NFL greats like Roger Staubach and Bob Lilly, and boxing's Jack Johnson, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame is a must see for any sports enthusiast.

Masonic Home Coach Rusty Russell has been honored by his induction in both the Texas High School Sports Hall of Fame as well as The Texas Sports Hall of Fame and has been joined there by many of his ex-players. In fact of the 250 placed in the Texas High School Hall of Fame, over almost 100 years of high school football, 11 were players of Coach Russell's at the high school or college level. The Texas Sports Hall of Fame has 304 inductees and of those, 7 played for Coach Russell in either high school or college , and in several cases, both. Many legendary Texas football greats like The Masonic Home's Dewitt Coulter and Ray Coulter, Scott McCall, Bill Stages and Allie White are inductees. Some of Coach Russell's college players are also inductees, including Ed Bernet, Bobby Layne, Doak Walker, Bill Forrester, Forrest Gregg, and Kyle Rote among others.

The Texas Sports Hall of Fame will open a new exhibit honoring a few of Texas High School Great Coaches, Players and Teams from the past, and Coach Russell was honored by being chosen as one of the new exhibitions to open this summer. The Hall of Fame is a beautiful facility on the edge of the campus of Baylor University and very convenient to I-35 . The curators have done an excellent job of putting together a wonderful sports history for the State of Texas, including a new exhibition on the old Southwest Conference, complete with video, audio and excellent memorabilia from the Colleges in the old Southwest Conference.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

A Culture of Community...

The culture of The Home was one of creating a family. The long-standing culture of Fort Worth is and always has been one of taking care of its citizens. Today the buildings at The Masonic Home stand in semi-solitude, mostly boarded up on the remaining acreage, waiting in turn for renewal as the campus evolves into serving the needs of the city's community of children and families through the non-profit entity, ACH Child and Family Services, which is also going through a time of change as it looks for better ways to serve its purpose.

Could the magic of The Home and the story of the Twelve Mighty Orphans have happened elsewhere? Other than Fort Worth, Texas? It isn't just Texas swagger -- Texas thrives on connections.

Fort Worth has fostered a personality of caring, an attitude of looking out for others, a business of making compassion its character, action its purpose.

When the city needed a place for fatherless children, Masons stepped up. When a runty scrawny orphan team needed a place to hold their cheering fans, Amon Carter built a stadium. Roll the clock up with this way of doing things and you'll see leaders who left legacies of long duration in matters of heart and soul. Life is short, but the life of a community can have a continual beating heart. Art is long and so is this idea of purpose and spirit; legacies have left tentacles, including the idea that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make a difference.

Same Kind of Different As Me is a recent book about a real story with true characters in recent times in Fort Worth. Compared to the Depression-era story of the Mighty Mites, it is a new story but is part of a long continuum of creating a community through caring for others.

The still empty buildings today, at The Home, are just the bones of something that continues evolving to stay relevant in the chain of caring -- the Fort Worth Texas way.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

1938 Quarter Finals...

In the entire state of Texas, you couldn't have a bigger disparity as you might have found between the Highland Park High School Scots, from the toniest part of Dallas, one of the snazziest, most exclusive neighbhorhoods (still is, today), and the Mighty Mites who came not from a defined neighborhood but from their own place behind walls where they lived a life much different from typical school boys of the '30s.

The 1938 quarter final game was not just a regular game of football. It was a game of boys who were taught they could go up against anyone versus a group of boys who had every advantage in thier hip pocket. The Highland Park boys of privilege had fans in the stands that taunted the scrawny father-less boys, shouting "orphans, orphans" to unsettle the Mites.

Thanks to Debra Stephens for the program.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Home Survives...

Recently I toured the 19.3 acre site of the former Masonic Home campus, which closed in 2005, that is now being saved and will operate under the entity ACH (formerly All Church Home, Fort Worth). Wayne Carson, PhD, and CEO of ACH, said that the property came under the ownership of ACH in 2008 and the entity serves around 3,500 children each year.

The chapel has been renovated and is open for weddings. It is called The Bell Tower Chapel and Garden. The first wedding is scheduled for 3/2/2010 and over 30 bookings were scheduled when we were out there in the latter part of January.

Many have commented about the classical structure and architecture of the various buildings on the Home campus, most of which are being saved, renovated, and will function as part of the new ACH entity. Above is the old administration building.

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Mites Made (Big) Headlines....

When the Mighty Mites played a team, it was BIG news, and that is no Texas exaggeration! This front page feature from a Dallas newspaper was in anticipation of the big game between the Oak Cliff Sunset High School Bisons and the Mites.

Debra Stephens has sent us newspaper clippings, including this one, from her father's archives. Her father, Mighty Mite Don Stephens, played college football ball (at Rice University), went on to serve in WWII, and then returned to live on the Masonic Home campus and coach the football team from '50 - '52. Her father moved to California when Debra was 14 after coaching teams in the Texas towns of Rosebud, Edna, Killeen and Mexia.

In thinking back about her father's career, Debra said, "I would think that Mr. Russell would have been influential in teaching him how to grow the players. You don't have to threaten a kid in order to get them to play a decent game of ball. That just wasn't my Dad's way."

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Front Page Headline Stars...

Jeff Brown went on to be a first-starter for the Rice Institute Owls in Houston and Mighty Mite teammate Don Stephens followed Brown a few years later and the press enjoyed keeping The Masonic Home team legend alive. The AP photo cutline above refers to the players as "former members of the popular Little Rascals eleven of Masonic Home which blazed a brilliant (path) through Texas football campaigns....".

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Moseley: Mighty Mind & Mighty Mite

Miller Moseley was only seven when he came to The Home after his father died of typhoid fever. Moseley became one of the Mighty Mites. Too small to smash opponents, Moseley mastered the difficult trick plays developed to outsmart bigger and tougher teams. His smarts didn't begin and end with football, though, and he went on to work with some of the smartest minds of the last century.

Weighing a scant 126 pounds upon graduation, he had little chance of being recruited to play college football on a scholarship so he headed to TCU in Fort Worth, encouraged by a Mason to apply there and find work to help pay for his college. This photo is from his college days at TCU where he graduated with degrees in physics and chemistry, finishing at the top of his class.

From the TCU Winter 2008 magazine:

He received a fellowship to pursue graduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he began working on a project separating isotopes for the U.S. Navy. Eventually he enlisted in the Navy and began working in the Naval Research Laboratory, then in the midst of a huge World War II push to develop a thermal diffusion process to supply the 235-uranium isotope used for the first atomic bombs.

It wasn't until he heard the news reports of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that he learned his group's research had been a pivotal part of something that had changed the course of the war and world history forever. He downplays his involvement, saying "I was just doing my job."
After the war, he finished his graduate work then returned to TCU - "to see old friends and find a job."He ended up doing both. Gaines, his former professor, offered him a position teaching and he joined the faculty in the fall of 1950. Apart from a sabbatical in 1957-58 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, he spent close to 40 years teaching at TCU, finally retiring in 1990.

Moseley was mentored in Chapel Hill by Dr. Nathan Rosen, who was a collaborator and right hand man to Dr. Albert Einstein earlier at Princeton. Rosen was directing Moseley's dissertation work and when Einstein called Rosen to come work with him to develop the atomic bomb, he in turn brought in Moseley to work on the Manhattan Project at a naval yard in Philadelphia where they were roommates. Jim Dent wrote, "His mathematical genius, developed at the Masonic Home, quickly emerged...as he was working with an all-star cast that included Einstein, Edward Teller, considered "The Father of the Hydrogen Bomb" and Robert Oppenheimer, "The Father of the Atomic Bomb."

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mighty Mites in the News...



The Mites seemed to propel a powerhouse of new might that kept fancy plays and talented players on the national stage. When Rusty Russell was creating the new offensive plays for SMU in the 1940s, he had a team again making national news in magazines like Collier's and Life (issues above in 1948). Former Mighty Mite Brownie Lewis was the co-captain of that undefeated SMU team (see Brownie in the earlier post). The November 6, 1948 Colliers and the September 27, 1948 Life magazine wrote about the "razzle-dazzle plays" that were not just "hot air" in the scorching Texas heat.


Brownie is pictured above in these two photos in Life. He is the one soaking in the tub in the photo above right.



The Mighty Mites are still making news. This month they made the cover for Texas Co-op Power magazine (above) for the December issue feature story, The Mighty Mites - The Orphans Who Could (pdf), by Jim Dent.

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Brownie...



Recently, by chance, I met Linda Billman, Floyd "Brownie" Lewis' daughter (he is pictured sitting on the hay bale, above), at a book club function in Fort Worth. The group decided to read Jim Dent's book, Twelve Mighty Orphans, for its selection in January 2010, and Linda raised her hand to note that her father was on the famous Mighty Mite team. She stood up to tell the ladies what The Home meant to her dad and how he considered his father and brothers to be those who cared for him there. He always thought holidays were very special because most kids headed to stay with extended families over the school break and he was always aware of those (like Hardy Brown) who had nowhere to go. Linda said he always appreciated his own family and those less fortunate yet, like many of that "Greatest Generation" she said her Dad didn't talk about himself much so she, like others, have enjoyed seeing this story unfold and realizing how significant the time, place and circumstances were in the lives of the orphans.

Brownie emulated his mentor's career path. Just as Mr. Russell left school to serve in World War I, Brownie, (as did many of his teammates), enlisted and headed off to defend the U.S. in World War II. Like C.D. Sealy, Brownie enlisted in the Marines and fought in the South Pacific. He later became co-captain of the SMU football team and an All-Southwest Conference selection at guard, playing under Rusty Russell who by then was on the SMU coaching staff. He briefly played professional football, but was considered too small for the NFL. He owned and operated the Brownie Lewis Door Company.

Linda, who has her father's big brown eyes (hence his nickname, "Brownie"), said her father went on after SMU into coaching in Texas, and one of his players was the famous SMU and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith. The photo above is from a function while the Russells and Brownie were affiliated with SMU. It was so much in Mr. Russell's character to stay suited up in his own style... all the time, regardless of the occasion. He was very much aware of the example he set for others. While everyone else wears western attire for a Cullen Ranch SMU function and Juanita wears her fancy cowboy boots for the occasion, Russell remains in his signature coat and tie. He sought to reflect character, integrity and honor in all he did and to make a difference in the lives of others. Linda was not aware of the forces that molded her father until she read the book and began to put her own father's story together. He died March 12, 1988. Her father's number was #25 at Masonic Home.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Spread Offense: Original Tool of the Mites

The Spread Offense was pioneered by H.N. "Rusty" Russell to help his Mighty Mites orphan football team beat stronger and bigger opponents and it emerged on the larger US stage in the mid to late 80s when coaches tried to get the benefits of the Run & Shoot. Russell invented it as a tool for his underdogs to help them outsmart the giants they played (and beat), and then helped it spread in Texas. The wingin' and flingin' strategy is now being played today by top college and pro teams.

The spread offense is "responsible for parity in college football today," ESPN Announcer Commentator Jay Walker said today on ESPN's Sunday Sports Center program on college football.

Walker said the advent and implementation of the spread offense around the rest of the country "means there's a balance" among college teams. "Back in the days when the Oklahomas, Nebraskas and Michigans were on top, they were just bigger and stronger and they played smash-mouth football and they just pushed around lesser teams. With the spread offense, you have to be quick because you can't push around what you can't hit," Walker said.

image credit

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Farrington Field: Built for the Mites


The Mighty Mites pulled in crowds that packed the stadiums in Texas. When the orphan team crowds began attracting tens of thousands of fans that could no longer be contained in Fort Worth's 5,000-seat La Grave Field down on the Trinity River, they would play in the city's largest stadium, TCU college's Amon G. Carter Stadium.

But the popularity and appeal of the skinny kids from the tiny orphanage convinced Fort Worth to construct a brand new stadium on prime real estate in the shadows of downtown. In 1939 the 18,500-seat Farrington Field opened and remains today the second largest stadium behind TCU's Amon Carter and the art-deco style facility is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a Texas Architectural Landmark, a city landmark and Texas Historic Landmark.

The stadium is still in use by the public school system in Fort Worth and the city's mayor has said he would help with whatever is needed to film scenes for the movie at the stadium.

image credit for full stadium

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mite-y Good Rusty Days...



So says a headline written when H.N. "Rusty" Russell was 76, with an editorial remark that the legendary coach's only flaw might have been not having a clear head at the beginning of games due to to the hardship of broken-down rusty equipment like Old Blue, the ancient scrap of a pick-up that ferried the team to games. Russell recalled that he'd felt half drunk by the time he arrived at games from driving the old Dodge truck with his team in the back bed. "Dern right I drove it," he said, "that ole truck nearly gassed me to death" with the fumes leaking into the cab.

David Castevens wrote, "Perhaps that's Rusty Russell's only flaw. He stayed intoxicated with football's aroma, from 21 years as a schoolboy coach to the hey-days of Doak Walker at SMU." Russell's indelible mark on football led him to be inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. His overall record as a head coach in 23 years of high school and 13 years as college head coach is 250 wins, 100 losses, 21 ties -- a 71% winning percentage. Russell coached 43 teams (he coached two high teams in one year) in 42 years total including his years as assistant coach at SMU before he became head coach and when started coaching at Temple High School as an assistant coach. As an assistant at SMU Russell enjoyed a 32-16-5 record where the Mustangs were nationally ranked, won two Southwest Conference titles, and made two Cotton Bowl appearances in 1947 and 1948.

Bear Bryant, referred to his friend Russell as being the greatest passing coach in the United States. Russell was called a "quiet and congenial" coach, the "man behind the guns" and "an innovator", a "football genius" and a legend.

"People called me a screwball because we did a lot of experimenting. You name it, I tried it, everything from a one man line to a 10," Russell says. He is credited with inventing the spread offense which is in bigger use today than it ever was. Originality of offense was considered to be one of Russell's biggest assets and it was written of him that "He thinks football almost the year around. It is reported that on many occasions he mulls over new plays and formations far into the night, many times getting out of bed in the early hours to diagram a play or work out new assignments. To any fan who has seen his teams in action there is little doubt but that he has some entirely new "stuff"... and they have some plays that only they can work. These plays call for expert handling of the ball back of the line and are so complicated that many times Russell himself loses site of the ball."

Many of his players are so small "as to be of little help" but they, like all Mighty Mites, refer to him not as "coach" but always as "Mr. Russell."

He was twice college coach of the week, retired in 1963, and after 42 years of work, Russell called his 16 football seasons at Masonic Home in Fort Worth "most satisfying." They produced a won-lost-tied record of 127-30-12 and eight of the more exciting teams in the history of Fort Worth. His 11 Mighty Mites Class A teams won seven district championships and tied for another. In all of his life-long career of full-time coaching, he never had a losing season.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

The Impact of Mentors...

Marie Glick dedicated her life to teaching. Nearing 99, she had students gathering around her, above, when she attended the Twelve Mighty Orphans book event at the downtown Fort Worth Masonic Lodge in September 2007. She served over 34 years at The Masonic Homer as a teacher, counselor and principal. She attended events last year in honor of her 100th birthday.

Most all Home Kids will tell you that the impact of teachers, administrators and principals is a key to what made The Home a unique place and, because of her many years of service and her dedication to the students, many many students mention Mrs. Glick as an important mentor. She still shows up at Home events and is accorded the best seat in the house.

Glick holds a BBA and an MBA from the University of Texas. Five years after she started teaching at The Masonic Home she married Dr. Walter Glick, a dean at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth. She often joked that her husband thought she was married to the students at The Home as that is where she directed much of her love and attention. After he died in 1960 she continued to live in their home on Texas Wesleyan Campus and she often sponsored students and allowed them to live in extra bedrooms. The home where she and her husband lived on the Texas Wesleyan campus was recently dedicated to the University as the Glick House Community Counseling Center - a gift that Glick made 20 years ago. At 101 she still lived on campus and this November she will turn 102.

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Psychology of the Game (The M Jacket)...



Rusty Russell's arrival at The Masonic Home to be an administrator, a teacher and a football coach began in 1927. Upon arrival he found a classroom to teach in, an office for his use as an administrator, yet no football equipment to play with nor a football field upon which to play. Few of the children at the home had any knowledge of football.

Russell played his first game and won their first real leather football on a side bet with the other team's coach. They used old t-shirts with spray painted numbers for jerseys and hand-me-down unmatching pants that came from somewhere and they were well into the season before they all had football shoes. A few had helmets.

The little team finished its first season in Class B with an 8-2 record. At the end of the season Russell's football budget was no larger but he had an idea of what might make a huge difference for the school and the team and he had a notion how to get it. He agreed to an exhibition game against the powerful Sherman High School team that had been in the Class A Championship Playoffs. Russell's team would be paid $250 for driving to Sherman and being sacrificial lambs. Sherman crushed the fledgling team 97-13, but their coach, Mr. Russell, walked away with something most important.

The Mighty M Jacket

With the season over, Russell took the podium two weeks later at an all-school assembly and presented each of his 12 players with letter jackets with the big "M" varsity letter on the front for all to see. These letter jackets had been paid for by the proceeds of the Sherman game.

This was the first iteration of the Home Kid Football Hero and the first lesson in knowing that going up against tough challenges fearlessly brings its own rewards. All kids looked up to these boys who went out to face the outside world on the football fields. Boys earned respect and proudly wore their letter jackets which became very important visible signs of how success could be earned, even if it was through hard, tough, and even failing efforts.

Years later Opal Lord, a Home Kid who married Home Kid Mighty Mite Doug Lord (both are characters in Jim Dent's book), proudly wears Doug's letter jacket as she signs her photo in Dent's book at the publication events for Twelve Mighty Orphans, the book, in Fort Worth in 2007 when it was first published (it is now in its 20th printing). She is pictured above.

From the very beginning, Russell's interest in psychology and motivation was apparent. He pursued additional education and credentials in this new area of "child guidance" obtaining his master's and later further post-graduate work in psychology/child guidance from institutions in Colorado, NYC and Texas Christian University. He thought his career would be in those areas within teaching, rather than as a coach, which he saw as only a sideline to his other interests of teaching and administration. He would spend many years honing those skills, surprising even himself that his success was found on the football field in addition to the classroom.

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ragnots: Raggedy Uniforms and High Hopes....



In 1932 the Mites reached their finest hour when they met Corsicana for the state championship and the legend can be said to begin that season. "We were ragnots, doing an excellent job. The whole town began to pull for us. We wore those leather helmets and khaki pants...our uniforms were good protection but maybe they weren't the prettiest things," H.N. "Rusty" Russell said of those times. But that is only the beginning of the inspirational story.

Those "ragnots" learned how to overcome obstacles and how to be successful in life. The Channel 2 in Houston special, "The Eyes of Texas," hosted by Bill Balleza, noted of that "for the record, (of the Home Kids) there were nine United States judges, four United States Army generals, five ministers, 47 medical doctors, lawyers and university presidents." Jim Dent adds that additionally there were mayors, two NFL stars (Hardy Brown and DeWitt Coulter), a nuclear physicist that worked with Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein, teachers and educators, a 35-year Marine career ending as Lieutenant Colonel, corporate CEOs and company presidents, and many, many students went on to earn graduate degrees.

The individual stories and careers are too numerous to tell but the whole school was sort of a bunch of ragnots with every excuse and reason for failure but the fact is the school cared, the teachers cared and the students did enough with it that they went on to become very important people in the world, their community and it didn't have to be that way. The Home repeatedly turned out great people who valued integrity, learning, perseverance and character. The impressive records of success can only be attributed to the players in the story -- the administrators and the children at The Home. The kids say things like "Mr. Russell is the finest man I ever knew" and "there were teachers we loved like Mrs. Glick and those who she hired to teach". The administrators say it was the kids, who were ready to learn and appreciated opportunities and relationships with mentors. What it was is a magical combination of both. The story is about a specific place, a specific time, willing recipients with their hearts in the right place and people willing to give beyond the norm. With that combintion, you have something that rarely happens. And it did.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Cult Heroes: The Story Goes National...

All of America came to love the Mighty Mites as the nation needed and yearned for heroes. According to Jim Dent, "It was the same obsession the nation held for Seabiscuit. People would go to any lengths to shed the Depression blues, and the best way to forget about adversity was to believe in the underdog -- an underdog with the heart of a champion."

A national story about the team had first appeared in 1932 with the team's first run towards the Class A State Championship. Some 2,200 banks had failed in 1931 and the bad times continued with 12 million men unemployed. At a time when men felt diminished and families felt pushed to the edge, the story of the scrawny orphans beating the giants of Texas high school football inspired a nation.

While the college teams in the area might attract 1,000 fans to games, the Mason's Mighty Mites packed in 5,000 to 10,000 fans on a regular basis. The saga of the winning team would set a standard for the next decade and provide an example of courage unsurpassed since in Texas sports. Those that couldn't attend the games tuned in to the radio broadcasts, sandwiched after Lawrence Welk and before Amos 'n Andy, Guy Lombardo, and Groucho Marx.

Harold Ratliff with the Associated Press, stationed in Dallas, the "big city" just to the east of Fort Worth, started distributing the story of the grasshopper team that could not be beat on the national AP wire. National media quickly picked up the story and stayed on it. Their undefeated year in 1932 was the just the beginning of a decade-plus run. The story of the Mighty Mites was one of inspiration, imagination, success and determination much appreciated at a time when America needed good endings to very tough times.

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Notes, Letters and Telegrams Poured In...



The number one team favorite in Texas soon became national darlings and telegrams and letters came flooding daily into the Masonic Home by the hundreds of fans from everywhere in the United States. Full mail bags were dumped daily on the dining room table in the Russell's tiny apartment behind the Dining Hall on The Home campus that also served as Mr. Russell's office. Well wishers from Wyoming, South Dakota, Detroit, New York, little towns and large cities were writing letters cheering the team on. Western Union telegrams from all over the United States came pouring in as well. The story became an ongoing national saga in newspapers and magazines.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

So, What Is The Latest?

Arthur Calcaterra, a 1996 graduate of the Masonic Home and School, wonders what is the latest news about the story as he heads to the Masonic Home reunion in Fort Worth. The annual reunion takes place this weekend on the old Home campus (see Reunions Maintain Family Ties for Masonic Home Children).

Calcaterra has an added personal reason to be interested in the 12 Mighty Orphans story, as Hardy Brown is his first cousin twice removed -- his grandfather and Hardy Brown were cousins. Not only are his generational ties to the story strong, but Calcaterrra has stayed in Fort Worth and is a practicing architect. As an architect, he would also understand how well-built the remaining buildings are on the campus, having been built by Masons.

Calcaterra is not the only one who keeps asking for the lastest news. So, direct from the partners, here's what can be announced so far:
The four partners of 12 Productions have had a five-step goal of 1) partnering with a major production company; 2) finding a director who understands the genre; 3) finding a screenplay writer; 4) attaching a major actor to play the lead role; and 5) taking the project then to a major studio.

They have spent the last several months working on each of these steps and their initial meetings had such successful receptions that the project has generated passionate responses with experts who have quickly understood the story and requested repeated meetings wanting to be part of this project. The partners have been extremely pleased with the substantial progress they have made on their plan and the talented people they are partnering with and hopefully will have more specific information regarding the project in the very near future.
Breaking news will be posted here, so stay tuned!

Pictured above is Coach Rusty Russell with members of the 1940 team.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Strategy, Strategy, Strategy

Always thinking, always strategizing, Rusty Russell was a man who had foresight and delighted in planning. His mind was never relaxed; he was always thinking about the future and how to manage and execute to meet goals.

"Whether it was bridge, or football, or investments or really, anything, he was a master strategist," Betty Russell recalls of her father, H.N. "Rusty" Russell, who, because of his influence, remains an avid football fan and reads the newspaper sports section first every day and plans her schedule around sports events she can watch on tv or attend.

According to History Professor J. Rufus Fears, the ability to have foresight is a critical element of leaders who make an impact.

Going through the letters and cards received after her father died, those whom Russell mentored as teacher or coach mentioned most the influence he had in their lives in teaching them values, character, and how to be successful in life. Rarely was football even mentioned in these letters.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Doug Lord, Golden Gloves, Then & Now...

When Rusty Russell's great-grandson was watching a mixed martial arts event in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in early 2009, he was surprised to discover that Doug Lord was a judge at the fight. For those who know Lord, it was no surprise.

Lord, one of the characters in Twelve Mighty Orphans, was one of the smallest kids on the Mighty Mites football team but was a born ringleader and he talked four of his buddies into going to the Will Rogers Colliseum in Fort Worth where the Golden Gloves were being held and they all signed up to fight, forging parental permission forms. There, with a mouthpiece he picked up off the floor and one pair of tennis shoes - both shared among all the buddies - he fought a man almost ten years his senior and although he went to the final bell, his opponent won. One of Lord's Home buddies, Ray Musselwhite, made it all the way to be crowned champion of the Golden Gloves.

Doug Lord over the past 50 years has continued to be involved with Texas Golden Gloves and professional and amateur boxing. He was the manager of World Welter Weight Champion Curtis Cokes, who was known for his training regimen. Lord, having been taught with the Mighty Mites how to be best prepared to go into a contest, would have brought those skills to prepare Cokes for his matches.

He continues to be a boxing judge at ring side in fights throughout Texas. Lord was honored at the 2008 Golden Gloves by his ex-fighters, fans and friends. The trophy presented to him read: Doug, thanks for all you did to make the Golden Gloves a great success.

Texas has had a very large share of National Golden Glove Champions and Lord's consistent contribution over the years to the sport has helped make Fort Worth a strong center for this sport.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fort Worth's Scrawny Team: Mighty Good News in Tough Times...















At a time when The Great Depression hit everywhere, causing disruption to families and businesses, ripping lives asunder, times were not easy. This photo captures a bank run on a downtown bank on Main Street in Fort Worth, Texas during those Depression years.

It wasn't the coach, or the football team, or The Masonic Home officials who came up with the name "Mighty Mites" for the scrawny team of boys who were known as scrappy orphans beating the toughest football teams in the state of Texas.

The official nickname the school had chosen for its fledgling football team originally had been The Masons, a tribute to the organization that established and supported The Masonic Home and School to take in and care for children of dues-paying Masons in good standing when no one else could. When the name was chosen, no one knew or cared much about the little unknown team. In 1927 it didn't matter much what the name was.

Fort Worth newspaper sportswriter Henry Holman "Pop" Boone years later renamed them the Mighty Mites, and the name stuck as the little tough team beat opponent after opponent in spite of all odds. The city that now calls itself Cowtown, that was known from it's founding to be the town on the edge of The West, an outpost to the unknown that rounded up cattle to be sent to feed a nation, grew to love this homegrown team and came out in force to root and cheer for the little guys who felt they were giants, coached to go up against anyone and anything.

The ragged team with hardly a spare boy on the bench and no fathers to root for them, inspired a city, then all of Texas, then the entire U.S. with their winning spirit and their desire to defeat the big boy teams from the largest schools around.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Rusty Russell: The Impact of Life Events...


Unforseen events and the influence of others can have an impact in the direction of lives. For the Home Kids, family circumstances altered their definition of home and family. For H.N. "Rusty" Russell, outside intervention twice in his life changed his course.

First, he was plucked off a tractor to play sports for Howard Payne boarding school in Brownwood, Texas. He had to work hard with tutors to catch up academically. He continued to play sports for Howard Payne University with a small interruption when he fought in the trenches in France in World War I.

The second major life event was that he received major injuries as he served as a medic on the front lines. He nearly died and spent a year recovering in hospitals in France. He dreamed of returning and making a difference in the lives of others, but first he had unfinished goals. He wanted to finish his college career with a team championship and achieve his personal goal of making All-Conference. This photo is from 1922 when he returned from the Great War.

Returning to Howard Payne after his war experience and recovery, Russell resumed his sports activities with even more intensity. He was All-Conference in football and basketball at Howard Payne, lettered in track and was named Best All-Around Athlete. He was Captain of both his basketball and football teams. The football team won the Conference Championship his senior year.

Most of all, more important than the sports to Russell, was the opportunity to learn and to immerse himself in an academic environment that he would otherwise not have had helping out on his family farm. He had to have private tutoring to bring him up to speed academically when he first entered Howard Payne. The world of the mind was the foundation of the game of life.

Why would Russell take a job at an orphanage in Fort Worth? Jim Dent thinks that Russell knew he could mold these kids into something big - they had nothing else to lose, says Dent. The Masons built The Home in Fort Worth to give orphans a first-class education. Science teacher-turned coach Russell rarely had more than 12 to suit up. His daughter, Betty, says he thought his calling was to be in Child Guidance, a relatively new field then and the academic focus for his master's degree. However, the importance of teachers as mentors in his own life and in the life of his wife, Juanita, led him to understand innately the impact he could make in the world by touching one child at a time with hope, love, teaching and guidance. And...coaching.

In the midst of the Great Depression, Masonic Home games were routinely outdrawing the major college games of Dallas (Southern Methodist University), and Fort Worth (Texas Christian University). More than 25,000 would come to watch the Mighty Mites. Sacks and sacks of mail were delivered with letters and telegrams arriving from people all over the nation.

Had someone not seen his potential as more than riding a tractor to help his family make ends meet, Russell's life might have taken a completely different path. The appreciation for that intervention led him to do the same for others from that point on. He would not have been injured in the war had he not put his own welfare second to his goal to save others on the front who had been hit by mustard gas.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Partners See High Interest, Passion as Meetings Kick Off in L.A.


Ryan Ross is taking a production role with 12 Productions in moving the 12 Mighty Orphans project to film. Ryan's film production experience and background and his passion for the Mighty Orphans story makes him a key principal with feet on the ground in Los Angeles and he is excited about the reception that the project and partners are receiving as they meet with industry executives.

A resident of Beverly Hills, Ryan is right in the heart of the film industry in Los Angeles and he has been spending the last month setting up meetings and getting the story into the hands of film industry executives interested in being part of the production team. All four partners of 12 Productions have just returned from a round of meetings in L.A. and are amazed at the level of intense interest and passion they have encountered.

"We knew this would make a great film but it is awesome to see that others in the film industry get the story and see the potential, too," Ryan says, adding that all partners were astounded at the reception they received, especially as first-time producers. The 12 Production partners hope to have an announcement very soon regarding a joint production arrangement with a major company.

Ross receieved his undergraduate degree in film from the University of Texas and he brings not only his acting experience and passion for film to the project, but he has most recently worked at Imagine Entertainment prior to taking the production role with 12 Productions for this project. Ross' film experience brings a skill set unique to the partnership. Ross is wanting to produce the best film possible that will not only satisfy the people who lived this story, but will inspire a nation at a time when they need it most...just like the Mighty Mites. He will continue to oversee the development for the film.

More: The Advocate magazine in Dallas, Texas, writes a feature on Ryan

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What Some Say...

So much has been said about the story, but here are a few comments to highlight:

Walter Lavender from Lorena, Texas
thought the book was fantastic. "I had no idea that the Masonic Home was so tough. Miller, Cecil and Dot were my grandmother's sisters children. I knew about their situation when I was growing up but I had never even thought that Miller and Cecil were on one of the best highschool football teams ever. It was so interesting that I read the whole book in the space of 2 days."

I purchased this book for my father ...he's a huge football fan, played high school ball in Texas years after the depression. He'd never heard of the Mighty Mites, and, were it not for a review I heard on the radio, we may never have. ...This is a wonderful story of the human condition, of overcoming odds and expectations, and how one person can make a huge difference in the lives of others when he is truly committed. Football fan or not, this is a wonderful telling of the lives of some special kids and the man who led them.

Willliam L. Brigman, Class of 1940 says:
I played blocking back in a single wing formation on the Mighty Mites team and was at the school from 1930 until my graduation in 1940. ...we were one of the most efficiently trained teams in the arts of the fundamentals of football including blocking and tackling. ... it is not true that the reputation (Hardy Brown) earned in pro football was the reputation he earned playing high school football. I played football with Hardy from the time I was seven years old until I was 18 as a member of the class a year ahead of the so-called Twelve Orphans. We had approximately 30 kids on the traveling squad; about half of them were too small to play in most games. This left us with less than 15-20 who got much actual playing time. Russell insisted on a very rigorous dedication to learning the fundamentals of the game which was one of the main reasons we were such a good team. Coach Russell put through practice scrimmages in which we learned the proper techniques for blocking and tackling; our practice scrimmages were often harder than the actual games we played with other teams. We suffered few injuries depite our relatively small sizes because we were so well-trained. ...The coach also knew how to get the best out of his players. ...A much more accurate read about our coach and team is a chapter contained in the book written by Harold Ratliff titled I SHOOK THE HAND. Mr. Ratlifff was a sports writer in Texas for many years and wrote in this book about the great people of sports whom he met during his career. Rusty Russell was certainly one of the greats. Rather than teaching us to win by dirty tricks he taught us sound fundamentals and he later on became the coach of Southern Methodist University in the days of giants like Doak Walker and Kyle Rote. It is true that the students worked at the home under the supervision of the adult staff; we all had daily chores including cleaning, farmwork, tending the orchards, maintaining the pool and tennis courts, waiting tables, etc. which rather than being abusive helped to prepare us to take care of ourselves and become self-sufficient adults. Each team member was assigned to maintain ten-yards of the field. Taking care of the Home and ourselves gave us pride in both the institution and a sense of self-sufficiency; it also bound us together into a type of family. This was Dustbowl and Depression-era Texas. I came from the Panhandle where my family was struggling to eke out a living. If I had remained at home, I would have had similar chores with less supervision and training since my widowed mother had to toil as a practical nurse in our small town hospital... Sure, we missed our families but we were better off at the Home where we had three meals a day, supervision from well-qualified staff whose mission was to help us to grow into independent, responsible, well-educated and caring citizens. We wrote home once a week, attended church on Sunday with a rotating clergy representing several denominations, and visited our families for two weeks each year when we could afford it. ...All of us were given vocational training and experience in addition to a scholastic education and the polish of good manners. Hooliganism was not encouraged or tolerated on the football team or anywhere else at the Home.

I grew up in Ft. Worth in the late 40's & 50's and heard plenty about them from my father & his friends... am surprised there never has been anything ever written about them before..

Tommye Nichols Hullum '68 read the book and wrote in the ex-student association newsletter (pdf) "Most of the Home kids were placed at the Home because one or both of their parents were dead or divorced." Tommye's Dad was a Mason...and two weeks after turning five, the kids which included Tommye, two sisters Mary and Ruby, and two brothers, Billy and Robert, entered the home in 1955. "My Dad and uncle were at the championship game in Corsicana."

Arthur Calcaterra, graduate of the Masonic Home and School, 1996, contacted us through the website and writes: "Another connection that I have is Hardy Brown would be my first cousin twice removed. My great grandmother was Mary Ann Brown, Hardy Brown Sr. Sister. So, my grandfather and Hardy Brown were cousins. Please let me know as this project progresses. This summer the Brown family will be holding a family reunion."

And...Twelve Mighty Orphans is absolutely the best sports nonfiction book to come along since Seabiscuit, An American Legend. And they both have a similar theme throughout - that of America's love for the underdog. ....it's the back story of the underdogs that grew up at the Masonic Home and scrapped their way to winning...

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Winning Spirit...

Underdogs they might have been, but the Mighty Mites learned to have a winning spirit. The '08 issue of the Masonic Home Ex-Student Association quotes Joe Ray Hogan '48 who played football w/ Doug Lord, in fall of 1944 played against Riverside. He felt, as a freshman, he was playing among Giants, "a great privilege. I felt dwarfed. Yes, Riverside won, but the next day the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said we were "outweighed" (always were), "out-manned" (always were), but "never (bold) out-fought."

The can-do winning attitude was carried out into life by Home kids. Teachers such as Marie Glick who taught for 41 years at The Home, was told by her husband "You're married to the Masonic Home." Glick continues to return to reunions (at age 100 she attended a special celebration held for her in Houston) and holds an special seat whenever she shows up. "She was our mother, she would help us out," said one former student in a documentary The Eyes of Texas. "She was just an awesome, awesome teacher," Opal Worthington Lord remembers. Glick was present at the Twelve Mighty Orphans book publication kick-off at the Masonic building in downtown Fort Worth. She loved greeting former students.

The Masonic Home in Fort Worth closed in 2005 but it produced nine U.S. judges, four army generals, 47 doctors, five ministers, lawyers, church leaders and university presidents.

What the 12 Mighty Orphan story reminds us is that in the midst of a horrible depression, anyone, no matter what their circumstances, could be a winner.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

The Story That Finally Was Told..

The story of the 12 Mighty Orphans could have easily died. In fact, several people over the years have tried - and failed - to write the story. When author Jim Dent called H.N. "Rusty" Russell's grandson R. Russell Morton in 2005 asking for archive access and information about Coach Rusty Russell for his story, it was just yet another author and Morton was skeptical about allowing anything to leave the family's hands.

"Many people have tried to tell the story but until Jim Dent came to me, I never thought it would happen," Morton says. In fact, he allowed Dent full access to archives and spent hours with Dent in interviews and arranging time for Dent to have access to family members and archive materials.

Dent was rushing to get the story told while those who were there could still remember. The portrait of Rusty Russell by Dewitt Coulter (pictured above) is one of the family's prize belongings. It was always on the wall above Rusty Russell's desk at home. Releasing this to Dent was a risk but Morton knew this time, at last, the story was going to get told.

After Russell Morton joined the 12 Productions team, he was given a 1952 Dewitt Coulter card (a Bowman card) in mint condition, enclosed in hard plastic by someone who read Dent's book, Twelve Mighty Orphans, and who has a huge collection of baseball and old football cards.

Morton says of the gift, "It was the last year Dewitt played in the NFL and he made pro bowl that year, so was the last card put out on him. It it considered a rare find. Anyway, he just gave it to me and said "we need fresh hope and big dreams right now and this book hits home".

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Story Lives On...

A few weeks after Jim Dent's book, Twelve Mighty Orphans, was published, Dewitt "Tex" Coulter died at age 83. At left are the Coulter brothers, Dewitt and Ray at The Masonic Home.

Dewitt had been a Mighty Mite star in the 1940s, playing all line and backfield positions and punting. Dewitt played for West Point's famous teams of WWII, the New York Giants of the National Football League where he was an All-Pro left tackle (he was an offensive and defensive end, offensive and defensive tackle, linebacker and punter, too) and the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League. He was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1997. He was an All State football player, won a national shot put in track, was All American at West Point before he was All Pro but he also excelled and found great satisfaction with his art, writing and humanitarian talents.

In an article on Dewitt for the Dallas Morning News, titled Greatest of the Great, Dewitt said, "Whatever Rusty said, we did. We never had many players but we believed we could hold down our own against the biggest school. It was exciting to run those trick plays Rusty taught us and play a lot of different positions. Masonic Home guys always have been close. When you spend that much time together, you're brothers for the rest of your lives."

Just like Dewitt's life embraced more than football, (his talents ranged far beyond the playing field-- an artist, cartoonist, sportswriter, builder and humanitarian -- his portrait of Rusty Russell comes up on the next blog post), the 12 Mighty Orphan story can not be defined as a sports story. As Home kids have grown up, led successful lives and think of the foundations they had, they have realized how unique their story was. And so, the story continues to stay alive.

As more people read and share the story, it becomes deeper and holds more meaning. Once the story was told by Dent, it has continued to grow legs even while many who were a significant part of the story, like Dewitt and Ray Coulter and Rusty Russell, have died. The story has come back to life and in so doing, continues to touch the hearts of many.

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Coulter Children...

The Coulter children came to The Masonic Home after their father, Hal, a Mason in good standing, died of tuberculosis and their mother, Lodie Bell, couldn't support the children. Ray, at left, was put in Dorm Two, separate from his younger brother, Dewitt, who was put into Dorm One with younger boys. The two older sisters, L.E. and Ima, at top and right, went into the girls' area. Boys and girls were separated and mingling of the sexes then was taboo. The initial adjustment was hard on children and that first night Dewitt remembered crying.

Melissa Coulter Ballas, youngest daughter of Ray and niece of Dewitt, has two young sons - Luke, 17 months, and Colt, 4, who are just a few years younger than Dewitt and Ray were when they came to The Home. "My husband and I joke that our boys will be just about the right age to play Ray and Dewitt as little ones entering the orphanage," she writes, "I am really enjoying reminiscing!"

She has discovered the story beyond the book and she writes "I am SO excited that this movie is going to happen! Reading the book was so therapeutic (and a bit overwhelming!). I loved reading certain parts and thinking Hey! Daddy told me about that! or I remember hearing about that game!"

Melissa sent this family photo of the four Coulter children, taken prior to their father's death and she shared her memories:

All four kids came to the home when my father was 5. That would make Ima 7 or 8, L.E. 9 or 10, and Tex 3. One memory that was huge (and heartbreaking) for my father was Dewitt crying and saying “I want to stay with YOU Ray!” when my dad had to go to school during the day. How devastating for ALL of them but for a little 3 year old without his mommy…so sad!

The boys and girls were separated except for Sundays and that was hard on them all, especially the boys! Someone told Jim Dent that my grandmother had at least one other child besides these four (it was in the book). My sisters and I don’t think that is accurate. We NEVER heard of any other aunts or uncles that we have. Ima definitely would have known! They continued to visit their mother holidays and summers in the Tyler area. ...Ima was one incredible lady! I know she had a lot of friends from the Masonic Home.

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