The new movie “12 Mighty Orphans” tells the story of The Masonic Home and School and the formation of a high school football team. The story is an important piece of Fort Worth and Texas history. It is a great movie, and I strongly recommend you watch it when you get a chance. Most of the movie was filmed in Fort Worth and Weatherford.
The team became known as the Mighty Mites. The boys were small in stature but tough as nails. They proved this on the football field.
I was able to attend a premier of the movie held at the Masonic Temple and had the opportunity to meet two Masons who grew up at the school. They are brothers and both played on the Mighty Mites team.
Paul and David are two of 13 siblings. Their father, a Mason, died when Paul was three years of age. Their mother struggled working three jobs to support and feed them. She would work one job and come home to feed them and go to the next job and so on through the day.
They lived in Hillsboro, and the local Masons approached her multiple times requesting they take the youngest of the brood to the Masonic Home and School. She refused but conceded on the third request. Paul told me at that time they were starting to get into trouble, and it was the best thing that happened to them.
The youngest were taken by the sponsoring Masons and dropped off at a playground at the school. The men were not allowed to say goodbye to them. This was the protocol.
Paul said he cried for two months. They were separated by ages and were not allowed to be with each other. He might see his brothers once a week or so. All he could do was wave. They were taken good care of but were strangers and alone.
Once a year they were able to go home and stay with their mother for a week to 10 days. Paul did not want to go back to the home the first trip back. His mother told him to try one more year and if he did not want to stay, she would take him back. By the second year, he never wanted to go back to his mother. Though he loved her he found a home. He told me that the Home saved his life.
At the home, the children became each other’s peers. This created a world of good for their self-esteem and indoctrinated them to strive to make good grades and to get the best education they could achieve. Both Paul and David earned degrees in accounting and became CPAs. David was Paul’s inspiration.
In the movie the boys were shown practicing and playing football barefooted and in jeans. This was how it really happened. They were driven to Sycamore Park to practice in a flatbed pickup, just like in the movie.
The opposing players were respectful for the most part. Occasionally, one player would call them little orphan boys. That would embolden the Mighty Mites to kick their (well, you know) on the field.
Football was what the boys and girls lived for. Many times, when the prayer was said over their meal the student would include “thank you for the home and thank you for football.” Football was worked into many of their prayers.
They did not have anyone to sit on their side of the field when they played teams out of town. Yet Masons of the town in which they played would sit on their side of the field in support. This caused much consternation with the rest of the town. Also, the Moslah Shrine Drum and Bugle Corp would play at their home games.
Paul made straight A’s and was allowed to play on the football team. He started at age 10 playing Pee Wee football, and as a senior in high school he was the team captain. For Paul football was the coolest thing, and it was a way of life at the home. David was also team captain his senior year.
They were proud of the legacy of the original 12 Mighty Mites. They would and still do have family reunions every year at the campus. All the graduates would return if they were able. The original Mighty Mites and Coach Rusty Russell would return for the reunions, too.
Part of the fraternal obligation of a Mason is to take care of their brothers’ widows and orphans. They did so in many ways. Doug Lord of the Hella Shrine and many Dallas Masons would pick them up and take them to the State Fair at their expense. The Oak Cliff Masonic Lodge would make sure each child had a Christmas present. The stage in the auditorium would be covered in presents. As a tradition, the Seniors of the school would hand out the presents.
Paul became Comptroller under Bob Bullock and worked with him for 31 years. Paul and Rebecca have three children and nine grandchildren. Paul recently stepped down form his position as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Texas. It’s an honor he looks upon as giving back, not as a boastful achievement.