Boys And Girls From The Other Side Of The Park.

Under-weight, Under-funded and Under-loved, 

These Orphans Ruled Texas Football

        Twelve Mighty Orphans: A Texas Football Story With Grit


            "I'll put you outside that fence with the city guys!"

No other words from Dean William Henry Remmert more terrified the orphans at Fort Worth's Masonic Home than these. Beginning with their arrival they were daily reminded of the dread "City Guys" who lurked beyond the fence. While Home Guys fight for honor, women, kids and the American flag, City Guys mistreat girls, have no manners and won't fight for their country.

The school's age-old "Us vs. Them" method of social control only partly explains the Mites' football-field ferocity. Adding to their aggression was the subconscious anger they must have felt from having no fathers to watch them play, no girlfriends to meet them after the games and the indignity of being called "dirty orphans" everywhere they went. So they went out, not just to win football games, but to fill hospital beds with opposition players.

Like Spartan soldiers, they lived, ate, studied, worked and slept together in the dormitory. Many Mites, like Hardy Brown and Leon Pickett, carried the festering psychic trauma of seeing their fathers die.


Hardy's mother, instead of comforting him and his siblings, abandoned them. As a 185-pound fullback Hardy played with ruthless, relentless fury. He used the infamous, now-outlawed, "Humper" block to loosen teeth, pulverize noses and shatter cheekbones. He may have been the most vicious player in football history.

It is said that his blocks initiated the use of face masks.

In their heyday from 1928 to the onset of the Second World War, the "Twelve Mighty Orphans" built a record of 127-30-12 under coach H.N. "Rusty" Russell and his sidekick, Dr. E.P. "Doc" Hall, a Fort Worth physician who tended the Homeboys and girls free for 45 years.

Though sponsored by Texas Masons, 450,000 strong, the Home could allot Coach Russell a meager salary but no football budget and no football.

In the beginning, they used a soup can. But they overcame poverty, constant battles with the Texas Interscholastic League, jealous rival coaches and their spies, and unlucky coin tosses to beat the stuffing out of high school Goliaths with up to nine times their enrollment. They traveled to games in a smoky flatbed truck with newly installed side rails, "to keep the orphans from bouncing out." Their equipment was so inferior that Highland Park gave them new uniforms to wear in the 1938 playoff games, but the orphans never wore them. They did not accept gifts from City Guys.

They just continued to beat their would-be benefactors, twice in 1938, raising comparisons that year with another champion of America's little guy, the short-legged, knobby-kneed racehorse that nobody wanted, Seabiscuit. Seabiscuit surprised the bluenoses of the horsey crowd that year by beating Triple-Crown winner War Admiral by four lengths. The Mites were outweighed on average by 30 to 50 pounds per player in every game but had 30 to 50 times more grit and gristle and Seabiscuitosity. Most of their opponents had multiple coaches. The orphans had only one coach, but he had 700 plays in his playbook while theirs contained a dozen or less.

Former Dallas Times Herald and Fort Worth Star-Telegram sportswriter Jim Dent, himself on intimate terms with adversity, has captured the underdog spirit of the Fort Worth Masonic Home's football teams and the depth of meaning they conveyed during the Depression era. His affection for the subject lights up the page like a modern scoreboard.

He follows Hardy Brown from the moment of the father-killing shotgun blast to Hardy's final ball-carrying rush toward the ice-covered Amarillo goal line, and the other boys are as vivid and familiar as their nicknames: Doug "Fairbanks" Lord, Cecil "Crazy" Mosely, C.D. "Wheatie" Sealy, Leonard "Snoggs" Roach, Clyde "Teague" Roberts, Floyd "Brownie" Lewis and John "Arizona Pete" Mayo. Arizona Pete endured merciless beatings from a sadistic dean until the dean mysteriously drowned in the Trinity River during an outing with the boys.

Eventually, the boys had to enter the world of the City Guys. But in doing so they no doubt improved its manners, honor, and treatment of women.

3 Masonic Home boys go on to University of North Texas

Doug Lord played football under Russell in the early 1940s. He graduated from the Masonic Home in 1944 and received his bachelors and masters degrees in business in 1950 from North Texas State College.

Bruce Riddle was 4 years old when he went to live at the Masonic Home about a decade after the stunning 1932 season.  After graduating in 1956 he earned a bachelor of business administration degree from North Texas State University in 1961.

C.B. Sealey also played as a Mighty Mite on the very successful 1940 team. After graduating in 1941 he earned a bachelors degree in education at North Texas State College in 1948.

Twelve Mighty Orphans:

The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football

Mighty Mites High school football has long been played beneath the Friday night lights, but the drama was never higher than when the Mighty Mites came to play. The Mighty Mites were the sons of deceased Master Masons who played for The Masonic Home and School on Fort Worth’s southeast side. Small but agile, the team gained a secret weapon in Coach Rusty Russell. When he joined the team in 1927, he taught them how to use short passes and trick plays, leveling the playing field with their larger rivals. In 1932, the Mighty Mites tied with Corsicana for the state championship. Although they lost on penetrations giving the state title to Corsicana, these underdogs established themselves as the toughest team in the league, lifting people’s spirits in the midst of the Great Depression.

Jim Dent, the author of the New York Times bestselling The Junction Boys, returns with his most powerful story of human courage and determination.

More than a century ago, a school was constructed in Fort Worth, Texas, for the purpose of housing and educating the orphans of Texas Freemasons. It was a humble project that for years existed quietly on a hillside east of town. Life at the Masonic Home was about to change, though, with the arrival of a lean, bespectacled coach by the name of Rusty Russell. Here was a man who could bring rain in the midst of a drought. Here was a man who, in virtually no time at all, brought the orphans’ story into the homes of millions of Americans.

In the 1930s and 1940s, there was nothing bigger in Texas high school football than the Masonic Home Mighty Mites—a group of orphans bound together by hardship and death. These youngsters, in spite of being outweighed by at least thirty pounds per man, were the toughest football team around. They began with nothing—not even a football—yet in a few years were playing for the state championship on the highest level of Texas football.

This is a winning tribute to a courageous band of underdogs from a time when America desperately needed fresh hope and big dreams.

The Mighty Mites remain a notable moment in the long history of American sports. Just as significant is the depth of the inspirational message. This is a profound lesson in fighting back and clinging to faith.

The real winners in Texas high school football were not the kids from the biggest schools, or the ones wearing the most expensive uniforms. They were the scrawny kids from a tiny orphanage who wore scarred helmets and faded jerseys that did not match, kids coached by a devoted man who lived on peanuts and drove them around in a smoke-belching old truck.

In writing a story of unforgettable characters and great football, Jim Dent has come forward to reclaim his place as one of the top sports authors in America today.

A remarkable and inspirational story of an orphanage and the man who created one of the greatest football teams Texas has ever known . . . this is their story—the original Friday Night Lights. “This just might be the best sports book ever written. Jim Dent has crafted a story that will go down as one of the most artistic, one of the most unforgettable, and one of the most inspirational ever. Twelve Mighty Orphans will challenge Hoosiers as the feel-good sports story of our lifetime. Naturally, being from Texas, I am biased. Hooray for the Mighty Mites.’’

—Verne Lundquist, CBS Sports

“Coach Rusty Russell and the Mighty Mites will steal your heart as they overcome every obstacle imaginable to become a respected football team. Take an orphanage, the Depression, and mix it with Texas high school football, and Jim Dent has authored another winner, this one about the ultimate underdog.’’

—Brent Musburger, ABC Sports/ESPN

“No state has a roll call of legendary high school football stories like we do in Texas, and, admittedly, some of those stories have been ‘expanded’ over the years when it comes to the truth. But let Jim Dent tell you about the Mighty Mites of Masonic Home, the pride of Fort Worth in the dark days of the Depression. Read this book. You will think its fiction. You will think it’s a Hollywood script. But Twelve Mighty Orphans is the truth, and nothing but. It is powerful stuff. Some eighty years later, the Mighty Mites’ story remains so sacred, not even a Texan would dare tamper with these facts. And Jim Dent tells it like it was.”

— Randy Galloway, columnist, Fort-Worth Star-Telegram

Masonic Home Independent School District


Masonic Widows and Orphans Home began with a resolution in 1885 to offer a permanent home for Masonic widows and orphans. In 1899, Masonic Widows and Orphans Home located at 3600 Wichita Street, Fort Worth, Texas, opens its doors to meet the needs of Masonic widows and orphans. Since 1911, while continuing to maintain financial support, the widows relocated to the Texas Masonic Retirement Center formerly The Home for Aged Masons in Arlington, Texas. In 1913, Masonic Widows and Orphans Home known as Masonic Home and School of Texas became recognized by the State Board of Education as Masonic Independent School District. In 2005, Masonic Home and School of Texas closed its Fort Worth campus which included the residential childcare program and Masonic Home Independent School District. In 2007, the campus was sold and the administrative offices were relocated to Hurst Texas.


Masonic Children & Family Services of Texas (MCFS) continues to uphold the legacy of supporting children, families, and widows by assisting in providing information, referral, and/or financial support.
  • This story and comments, quoting out of context, read the full story, Nowhere But Texas
  • Twelve Mighty Orphans By Jim Dent