Football Coach Rusty Russell believed that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. He believed in himself and in 12 Mighty Orphans, who, against all odds, went on to play the Football State Championship in 1938. The film fables the exemplary tale of misfits and forgotten children who became the mighty orphans, the classic underdogs.
12 Mighty Orphans is an inspirational sports drama film based on actual events. Director Ty Roberts has adapted the movie from Jim Dent’s non-fiction novel, “Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football.” Luke Wilson, who plays the football coach to the orphans, performs with grace. His undefinable humility and generosity can charm the hearts of men without a doubt.
’12 Mighty Orphans’ Plot Summary
The film shows the Texas High School State Championship, 1938, where the Orphans play against the Sandies. After a devastating half-time, the narrative rolls back to 6 months earlier.
War Hero Rusty Russell (Luke Wilson) arrives in Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife Juanita and young daughter to join The Masonic Home. Rusty takes the job of new math, science teacher, and football coach in the Orphan School. While Juanita is hired to teach English. Warden Frank Wynn welcomes the new teachers and gets them accustomed to the school.
Rusty soon learns of the ongoing horror in the school. Warden Frank physically assaults kids to compel them into child labor to fill his own pockets. The orphan boys lack education and are unaware of their own freedom of expression. With the help of the school’s physician, E.P. Hall “Doc Hall,” Rusty fosters a football team. Rusty believes that the game will bring self-respect and passion to these boys roaming like aimless chickens indulging themselves in an abyss of manual labor.
What lays ahead is a series of hurdles in the Orphans’ pursuit towards the state championship.
The Conflicts to their Story
Warden Frank Wynn did everything in his power to stop the orphans from playing football. He feared that the game would bring passion in the aimless boys who would prefer to spend time on the field instead of his printing workshop.
Warden Frank was a hard nut to crack, but the boys themselves were the first hurdle in Rusty’s journey. They were hard-boiled and untrained. Fortunately, Rusty and Doc Hall knew how to melt down the boys’ egos and train them appropriately. Looking at their zeal, Rusty applied for their admission in “the Interscholastic League.” However, the new rules stated that all players were required to take a basic aptitude test. Rusty took that as a challenge and taught the unschooled boys. To his surprise, only 12 Orphans passed the aptitude test, and thus Rusty was obliged to make a team of only 12 players. To fill the gap in the group, all the players had to play both ways, which was pretty endearing and courageous.
The boys trained passionately without shoes, football, and proper equipment, and Rusty left no stone unturned to transform them into mighty warriors. Now, it was time to test their mettle in their first football match.
David versus Goliath
The Mighty Orphans played their first match against their rival Polytechnic or “The Poly Parrots” in 1938. Though they lost the game to the Ploys, the Orphans were just warming up. They took the Texas Football Circuit by a blitz and became the Classic Underdogs amidst Depression.
Rusty’s orphan team players were slim, short, and none crossed the required weight of 200 pounds. Rusty coined a spread offense technique to make up for their limitations that later gave him “hall of fame” recognition in Texas Sports Hall.
The Mighty Orphans were on a winning spree and soon came across their nemesis “Polytechnic” again in the Regional Semi-Final. The orphans won the game and entered the state championship, but casualties were fatal to their future efforts. One of their key players, Fairbanks, procured severe injuries due to which he never played football again.
The orphan team had to play the state championship with only 11 players.
’12 Mighty Orphans’ Ending Explained
Before the semi-final match, Warden Frank Wynn shared some confidential documents with Polytechnic team captain Luther Scarborough. But Luther didn’t use this secret weapon until Mighty Orphans won the game against his team. While the orphans were celebrating, UIL accused Orphans team of age violations, mainly lying about their star player Hardy Brown’s age. They were suspended from the championship, and the Polytechnic team was given their place.
According to Hardy’s birth certificate submitted to the president of UIL, Rodney Kidd (coincidentally, Luther’s brother-in-law), Harden Henry Brown was born on September 4th, 1920. As per his age, in 1938, he was deemed ineligible to compete at the high school level. But at the UIL assembly, Hardy told them that the birth certificate belonged to his older brother, who died a week after he was born. Mistakenly, Warden Frank gave the wrong birth certificate to Luther in his pursuit to destroy the Orphan Team. However, even after the revelations, Rodney refused to alter his decision until he got a call from President Roosevelt, who took an active interest in Mighty Orphan’s journey.
Finally, 12 Mighty Orphans got a chance to play in the state championship, and they traveled to Amarillo to unleash their hard work. In the meantime, Warden Frank was arrested by the sheriff for violating child labor laws, and his illegal printing press was closed by the principal.
In Amarillo, the narrative jumped on to follow the match after half-past time. Sandies were leading with 7 points, while orphans didn’t score any. It was a tough fight against the Sandies, who were incredibly huge and robust for the Orphans. The orphans bled and got injured, yet they didn’t give up. They used their “Snoggs Special” passing technique against the furious bulls of Sandies. But even with such endeavor, Hardy, who had the last chance to score, failed to touch the goal. Six Golden Sandies piled up on Hardy Brown to stop, and alas, they succeeded. The Mighty Orphans lost the match, though what they won that day couldn’t be described in words. It was a belief in themselves that would go on to last their entire lives.
“A team that started with nothing left with more than they could have ever dreamed of.”
’12 Mighty Orphans’ Rolling Credits
A rolling credit sequence gives away the life of prominent characters of the film after their state championship match. Rusty’s legacy as the greatest coach in Texas still lives on. The famed Hardy Brown is still known as one of the toughest men in the game. A single man’s vision touched so many lives with a single pursuit, and one couldn’t be thankful enough for an inspiring tale of their efforts.
12 Mighty Orphans is a Biographical Sports Drama film directed by Ty Roberts. It is based on the non-fiction novel written by Jim Dent that follows the real-life hustle of Rusty Russel and his 12 orphans from The Masonic Home.