12 MIGHTY ORPHANS – In Texas in the times of the Great Depression, poverty is everywhere, hope was fading from the lives of many Americans. There were, however, some few ways to escape from the pressures and anguish of everyday life—football was one of them. In this film, director Ty Roberts takes us to follow the story of some unlikely heroes and their harrowing journey to fame. Rusty Russell (Luke Wilson) is a math teacher who, with his wife Juanita (Vinessa Shaw), and their daughter Betty (Lillie Fink), move to an isolated Forth Worth orphanage to teach. But, there is something more, Russell’s primary motivation to go there was to coach a football team. Encouraged by Doc Hall (Martin Sheen), who is the medical doctor at the institution, Rusty starts his mission with two significant obstacles: lack of equipment—the players didn’t even have shoes, neither protective equipment, and only one football; and the unruly attitude of some of the prospective players. In the words of another instructor, these orphans were sometimes referred to as “inmates.” At first, they are not easily motivated, neither to do their math nor to believe in their own football team.
However, the Mighty Mites, thanks to Russell’s determination and the increasing confidence in themselves that the team members develop, can compete in the same league with other high schools. Eventually, they will play the regional championship. The team even got the attention of then American President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Eventually, many of the players made famous by their exploits as the underdogs made it into professional football. Moreover, coach Russell—although he never coached any professional team— became prominent in American football for having introduced the “spread offence” tactic, now regarded as essential in that sport. A move he introduced to compensate for the lack of physical weight of most of his players, resorting instead to their speed.
“12 Mighty Orphans” is not at the same level as other famous sports movies. However, it still manages to engage the viewer emotionally, sharing in the sympathy that the Mites arose in the late 1930s, and with good reason: it is a story of perseverance and dedication that is not often rewarded. It narrates the overwhelming odds of orphans who might have had their lives wasted if the coach Rusty Russell and Doc Hall haven’t motivated and make them believe in themselves, just not as football players but as persons as well.
Released in cinemas on Friday, June 18. Duration: 118 min