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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