The name Rusty Russell should be familiar to Park Cities historians. The legendary football coach led the Scots for two seasons in the 1940s, and helped pave the way for the school’s first state championship in 1945.
However, Russell is best known as the coach of the underdog Masonic Home squad during the 1930s that became known as the Mighty Mites, captivating fans everywhere with innovative offensive schemes and a ragtag roster that was undersized and outmanned by their large-school opponents.
Their story was captured in a 2007 book called 12 Mighty Orphans by Dallas author Jim Dent that has now been adapted into a movie, which is set for release in Texas theaters this week.
The film specifically chronicles the 1938 season for the Mighty Mites, depicting two matchups between the Masonic Home led by Russell (played by Luke Wilson) and a powerhouse HP squad then coached by Redman Hume (Scotty Sayers).
“The Scots said they’re gonna beat us by 50 points. They said we’re nothing but a bunch of hillbilly orphans,” says Russell in a motivational speech in the film. “What do you say we show these silver spoon Scotties how we country boys play ball?”
Although their first meeting that season was acrimonious, the HP supporters later raised funds to provide new uniforms for the Masonic Home team prior to their rematch in the playoffs.
Production took place in Fort Worth in fall 2019, when current HP athletic director Johnny Ringo visited the set to share some Scots history — and gear — with the young actors.
Wilson, who attended St. Mark’s along with his two older brothers, Owen and Andrew, said the opportunity to film in his native North Texas appealed to him.
After reading the screenplay and Dent’s book, Wilson prepared for the role by watching archival footage of Russell, who coached Doak Walker at both HP and SMU during the 1940s.
“He was such a decent person — kind of stoic and laconic — and not a person that in many ways sought the spotlight,” Wilson said. “When you’re playing a character, you want them to be dynamic or funny or fun to watch. It was kind of a struggle playing somebody so quiet.”
The project also attracted the attention of Wilson’s mother, famed Preston Hollow photographer Laura Wilson, whose behind-the-scenes photos will be exhibited at Fort Worth’s National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Museum this summer.