“12 Mighty Orphans” is a True Texas Tale

12 Mighty Orphans a true Texas tale
Sony Classic Pictures

“12 Mighty Orphans” is based on a true story about an underdog football team from a Fort Worth orphanage who stunned the state and the country, going to the state championship during the Depression era. The film is adapted from Dallas sportswriter Jim Dent’s 2007 nonfiction book, and was shot almost entirely in Texas—primarily in Fort Worth and Weatherford.

So it’s only right the Sony Classic Film opens in Texas first, on June 11, where it can be seen in local theaters before spreading to other states next week. I loved Dent’s book, and couldn’t wait to see how well the movie captured this classic underdog story. The tale of these scraggly boys who became the “Mighty Mites” from Fort Worth’s Masonic Orphans Home is a Texas tall tale that proves truth really is stranger than fiction.

Texas Director and Star

Midland native Ty Roberts (“The Iron Orchard”) directed “12 Mighty Orphans,” choosing another Texan, Luke Wilson, to star as legendary football Coach Rusty Russell. The successful high school coach had shocked his colleagues by leaving a sought-after position to work at the orphanage. Because he was also an orphan, the WWI veteran felt drawn to work with them after he became a coach and teacher.

The story of the Mighty Mites and their progress from a team without shoes or a football to playing in state championship actually spanned several years. But the film’s producers decided to consolidate the action into one season, making it seem even more improbable than it probably was.

Coach Russell did manage to turn the underdog team into one that inspired the nation, developing innovative new strategies that closed the gap between his boys and their larger, more experienced opponents. Along the way the Mites gained legions of fans across the U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was an outspoken fan of the team.

“12 Mighty Orphans”

“12 Mighty Orphans” stars Wilson as the soft-spoken Russell, and Vinessa Shaw as his school teacher wife, Juanita. Both of them taught at the orphanage school for 16 years. Martin Sheen plays the Masonic Home’s doctor, and Wayne Knight is their abusive director. Jack Austin Walker plays Hardy Brown, the team’s star player who later enjoyed 12 seasons in the NFL. Cameo appearances are made by such heavy hitters as Robert Duvall and Treat Williams, while Ron White and Scott Haze also make brief appearances in the film. The screenplay is adapted from Dent’s best-seller by Roberts, Lane Garrison, and Kevin Meyer.

I would have liked to learn more about the Mighty Mites themselves, but we had to wait till the closing credits to see photos and read about the actual players. Guess maybe it’s time to go back and read the book again.

“12 Mighty Orphans” is produced by Brinton Bryan, Angelique De Luca, Michael De Luca, Houston Hill and Director Ty Roberts. It opened in Texas June 11 and opens wide a week later, rated PG-13 for suggestive references/brief teen drinking and smoking/ language/violence.