Fans of the Masonic Home and School’s outstanding Mighty Mites football team of the 1930s and 1940s may not have heard much about the Torres brothers — Armanante (A.P.), Armando (Jack), and Gonzalo (Charlie) — if they relied on Jim Dent’s “Twelve Mighty Orphans” or Ty Robert’s film adaption. The only mention of A.P. in Dent’s book is a reference on page 183.
In the film, Doc Hall interpreted Coach Rusty Russell’s team instructions for a Latino football player. Roberts displayed an interesting bit of historical translation since the Torreses spoke English.
Dorothy Kellam, a 1943 graduate and later a teacher and admissions director, remembered the Torres boys. “A.P. was just one of us. We didn’t know the word Mexican. We didn’t distinguish him from the rest of us.”
When Blacks and Whites drank from separate water fountains, when Opal Lee’s family home was burned down, when Mexicans were restricted to live east of Main Street on the North Side, Masonic Home and School encouraged the Torres boys to study and play on their sports teams. Sadly, the racial acceptance didn’t extend to Blacks.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram sport writers filled the yearning for uplifting news to drive away the Great Depression blues by covering the small school team’s gridiron rise. In 1938, when the Masonic team dominated District 7, four Sonic boys, including A.P., made the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s All-District football team.
Lorin M’Mullen described A.P. rallying the Sonics in huddles when they trailed the Lubbock Westerners. On defense, A. P. strolled behind the front line, kicking players’ buttocks to goad them to yield no ground.
Frank Tolbert wrote on Dec. 3, 1938, “A.P. Torres, the 144-pound center, continues to make larger pivot men look very ill.”
Depicted as the underdogs because of size and lack of reserve players, threadbare-decked Masonics faced the sterling-uniformed Highland Park Scots on Dec. 10, 1938 at Ownby Stadium. Tolbert wrote: “Two-hundred-pound Dallas tackles were carried out groaning from the hard knocks such Masons as the tempestuous Mexican center, 144-pound A. P. Torres, or the 126-pound guard, Jack Bates, were dealing out.”
In the 1938 District 7 championship game against Poly High School, A. P. centered while Jack threw for a touchdown. A.P. aged out of playing in 1939, but Jack continued at quarterback.
No other players were ethnically tagged by newspaper or screen writers. Influenced by Southern 1930s writing standards and resentment at Latino athleticism, they described A.P. as “the wide-faced truculent Mexican center,” “Masonic Home’s peppery little Mexican,” “swarthy Masonic Home boy.” Masonic teammates and staff sheltered the Torres teens from city boy rants.
Bates in his autobiography “Proud to Be No. 23, The Story of My Life” described A. P. as an admirable team player with whom he would clown off the field. Dissatisfied with lunch entrees, Bates told of their excursions to Bob Tatum’s store in Poly to buy snacks.
At the outbreak of World War II, the Torres brothers joined the military along with 312 Sonics, 13 dying in the war. A.P. commanded 62 combat flight missions in Europe, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross; Jack worked in Navy construction in the Pacific; Charlie fought as a Marine, wounded on Iwo Jima, and served in the Korean War.
Tough Mexican orphans to foes and writers — to teammates, the Torres trio starred as Masonic Mighty Mites.
Author Richard J. Gonzales writes and speaks about Fort Worth, national and international Latino history.