Athens Review, Athens, Texas

April 19, 2013

Sports author to speak

Best-selling writer Jim Dent to appear at book club

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens — Best selling sports author Jim Dent comes to Athens on Wednesday as the guest speaker of the Trinity Valley Community College Read Through the Valley Book Club.

Each year, the club, made of Trinity Valley Community College students and employees, studies a literary work. This year, the selection was Dent’s “Twelve Mighty Orphans.” Dent’s appearance is set for 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the TVCC auditorium, and is open to the public.

The orphans in the book are the Mighty Mites, the football team at Masonic Home in Fort Worth, that became a power in the 1920s and 1930s. Dent’s interest in the team grew out of a show he saw on ESPN in 2006 that featured former NFL linebacker Hardy Brown, known as one of the NFL’s hardest hitters in the 1950s. 

“Steve Sabol asked him, ‘Is there anyone tougher than you?,”’ Dent said. “Hardy said, absolutely, positively not. Then he paused and said, ‘Unless it was at the Home.”’

The idea that an orphanage was able to field a team that competed at such a high level stirred Dent’s creative juices.

“I was a newspaper reporter for a long time, and I love digging into stories,” Dent said. “When I get hold of a story that I really like, I get an adrenaline rush. It’s a good thing too, because I’ve got to write 100,000 words on this subject.”

Dent’s research took him to the Fort Worth Library, where microfilm of old copies of the Fort Worth Press and Fort Worth Star Telegram contained a wealth of Mighty Mite stories. He was also able to track down the living members of some of the Masonic Home teams of the era.

Dent wove the newspaper accounts and player’s remembrances into a story that has sold more than 250,000 copies since its 2007 release.

“It got off to a little bit of a slow start, because it happened so long ago that the story got lost,” Dent said. “A lot of times it’s word-of-mouth that helps you sell books. Once it got going, this thing snowballed. The book continues to keep selling at an amazing pace.”

Dent covered the Dallas Cowboys for the Dallas Times Herald for more than a decade, then segued into the longer form with “The Junction Boys,” in 1997.  Dent said the book grew out of stories former Cowboy assistant coach Gene Stallings had told him about the tortuous summer football camp Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant put his Texas A&M team through in 1954.

Dent returns to Texas high school football for his next work. “The Kids Got it Right,” the story of how the 1965 Big 33 All Stars broke down racial walls. Bill Bradley of Palestine, a future Texas Longhorn and Philadelphia Eagle, and Jerry Levias, the Southwest Conference’s first break-out black football star at SMU, are featured in the book.