12 Mighty Orphans

2020 was the worst American year ever. But now that it is 2021, things may be slowly getting better. They are for me. I recently got together with one of my AC groups; we had to postpone a gathering in 2020.

One of the Roos in that group, Richard Gudmundsen, brought me a gift. What a guy. Good ol’ Rich happened to see an original football program and schedule of the 1932 Austin College Kangaroos & Sherman Bearcats on Ebay and outbid everybody to get it. No worries gang. We aren’t talking Sotheby’s prices. This is 1932 Roo football. Rich easily covered the cost.

And what a great gift that program is for a terrible year like 2020. Because in reality, 1932 was the worst American year ever. 2020 doesn’t even hold a candle to 1932.

What began as another mild downturn in 1930 slowly evolved into a man-made catastrophe. The forces of monetary & fiscal austerity cratered the American economy by 1932; national output needlessly dropped by nearly 30%. Average folks paid a huge price when elites demanded a government that “liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate, purge the rottenness out of the system.” 2020 economic growth, by comparison, declined only 3%.

The end of the 1932 Sherman Bearcat football season was a bitter pill to swallow. After earning a district championship, the Bearcats advanced deep into the playoffs. Coach Verde Dickey, an Austin College alumnus and future inductee into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, was hoping to earn Sherman its first state title. But a disappointing playoff loss at Amon Carter stadium ended Sherman’s title hunt in 1932.

1932 was also the worst of times for Austin College football. The Great Depression crushed enrollment, leaving legendary coach Cecil Grigg with few skilled players. The 1932 Roos did not win a single game, and could only muster a total of 13 points all season. After 1932, Grigg left his alma mater for a position at Rice, coaching some of the best Owl squads in the golden era of the Southwest Conference.

Even Austin College itself was fortunate to survive 1932, the worst American year ever. From the book “100 Years, 100 Yards:”

“On December 13, the Synod of Texas of the Presbyterian Church almost ended the story of Austin College. The group voted to close the college at the end of the 1932-33 year. The nation was in the midst of a depression, enrollment was down, and Austin College was in debt. After the vote was taken, the Synod recessed for lunch. During the meal, someone remembered that if Austin College closed, the Synod would have to take over that debt. After lunch, they voted to keep Austin College open.”

Then things got better.

So complete was the failure of the American austerity crowd that voters cleaned house in 1932. A new administration promised an end to the madness. Over the next 8 years, the construction of public infrastructure projects was visible throughout the country, and turned the economy around. Between 1933 and 1941, American GDP nearly doubled. One of those New Deal projects was Farrington Field, featured prominently in the soon-to-be-released movie “12 Mighty Orphans,” about the football success of the Masonic Home Orphanage in Fort Worth.

In later years, the Sherman Bearcats could look back on their 1932 season with pride. The disappointment of that playoff loss was mitigated by the opponent who defeated them: the famous Mighty Mites of Masonic Home. The “12 Mighty Orphans” would earn a state co-championship in 1932. The story of their Depression-era success was chronicled in a Jim Dent Book that is worth reading. The movie will be released June 11th.

Good times returned to AC football soon after 1932 as well. The freshmen on that winless team won a Texas Conference championship as seniors in 1935, defeating rival Trinity on the final game of the season to clinch the title. Many Roos associated with that 1932 team went on to coaching roles themselves, and for the rest of the decade often found themselves tangling with the 12 Mighty Orphans of Masonic Home. Austin College Coach Pete Cawthon was one of their biggest fans.

The fortunes of Austin College itself finally began to slowly improve as the Depression waned, as painful budgetary sacrifices bought time until the country’s economic health finally improved. Austin College had already survived more than a few crises, and eventually put the worst American year ever in its rear view mirror.

When “12 Mighty Orphans” comes out, there will likely be many historical Roo nuggets contained within. I plan on looking for a whole lot of folks with 1932 Roo ties when I watch. I’ll also be looking for Kangaroo Melinda Massie; Melinda is an extra in the flic. A tip of the hat to “12 Mighty Orphans” costume designer Juliana Hoffpauir; not only did she nail the uniforms, Juliana is the cousin of Roo footballer Art Clayton. And pay special attention in the movie to C.D. “Wheatie” Sealy on the Masonic Home football team. He was not only the Mighty Mite quarterback, he was also the real-life grandfather of Kangaroo Amanda Mims!

There. Are. Always. Roo. Ties. The movie trailer was released just today. See the comments.

1932 was pretty rough. So hey, maybe 2020 wasn’t so bad after all. But I’ll still take 2021. Things are better. Good to see you Rich, and thanks for the gift.