Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Mighty Mites

Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas FootballTwelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football by Jim Dent

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The idiom says, "Don't just a book by it's cover." What about the book jacket?

All it took was reading the book jacket, and I was a goner for Jim Dent's Twelve Mighty Orphans. Then again, maybe I should have judged this book by it's cover because the rest of the title is "the Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football"—what's not to love?

The book covers the story of the Masonic Home Mighty Mites during the 1930s and 1940s, when America was in the dark depths of the Great Depression. For hundreds of children, the Masonic Home was the place you came to when one or both of your parents died or because they could simply not afford to care for you. Life at the Home may not have been the most comfortable (no shoes for orphans between April 1 and October 1) or nurturing (the deans wielded paddles and a heavy hand), but it was a place of lasting friendships and education.

Enter Coach Rusty Russell. Coach Russell himself possessed a tenacious and determined spirit. During the Big War he was devastatingly injured when a canister of mustard gas landed nearby and blinded him. He eventually regained his eyesight, but was forced to wear thick glasses in order to see. Once back in the U.S., doctors instructed him to give up football, but he wore his glasses and was selected to the all-conference teams for football and basketball. The man gave up a good job at Temple High School in Texas, where he had a 20-3 record and took his team to the 1925 state-semifinal. He walked away from Temple to the Masonic Home where he would be faced with always-undersized players, an old blue Dodge for transportation, and uniforms made from t-shirts and spray paint.

I haven't even got to the orphans yet. But really, what's the point? Jim Dent tells their story so wonderfully, and I wouldn't want to cheat anyone from this experience. Just go get the book. Even if you don't love football, surely you love the underdog. After all, the Mighty Mites were playing at the same time Seabiscuit was racing and James "Cinderella Man" Braddock was fighting; and their story is just as movie-worthy.

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