Olympian Elliot Archilla recalls Lake Highlands High in 1964

Elliot Archilla as a biathlete in the Calgary Olympics
Elliot Archilla as a biathlete in the Calgary Olympics

Elliot Archilla considers himself the first male graduate of Lake Highlands High School.

Archilla was part of the Class of 1964, which used the current Lake Highlands Junior High as their high school. LHJH was brand new then (it opened in the fall of 1960), and it began with seventh, eighth and ninth graders. As Archilla’s ninth grade class progressed, more grades were added.  (When the upperclassmen began complaining about going to “junior high”, the name was temporarily changed to Lake Highlands Junior-Senior High.) As they called the names, Archilla was first male to cross the stage with a diploma from Lake Highlands High. (Two females were ahead of him alphabetically.)

By the fall of 1965, the campus at 9449 Church Road was open and ready for students. The first graduates who actually attended class in the current building were the Class of ’66.

Archilla, now serving as class rep for the LHHS 50th Anniversary celebration, is full of stories and remembrances.

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“Our class was very close, and we’ve always kept in touch,” Archilla told me. “We had a small class, only 132 grads or so, and we all just had a great time.”

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“Most teachers were new and not much older than we were, but some, like Principal A. M. Anderson, were very experienced. He set the tone, which was followed by the staff. We had a great deal of respect for our teachers, and we had great parental involvement. That’s what made the school so good and made us successful.”

“Bill Bickley from the Class of 1965 was a writer for the television show Happy Days. He used the idyllic nature of LHHS as the model for his show.” (A Wildcat pennant can be seen in Richie Cunningham’s bedroom when Potsie and the Fonz drop in.)

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Wildcat cross country state champions
Wildcat cross country state champions

Archilla is also LH’s first Olympian. He competed in the Biathlon at Calgary in 1988. (Erin Aldrich, LHHS grad in 1996, competed in Sydney’s summer games in the high jump.) He was also the winner of the school’s first biology scholarship (he used it to attend North Texas State University) and the winner of the school’s science fair four years in a row.

“We had a lot of really high achievers in our group who went on to great accomplishments. We also had several men and women on staff that went on to marry each other and begin families. Of course, when the kids found out they were dating, it was a big deal.”

“I remember Mr. Whitman, who taught us all four years, took us to Corpus Christi on a field trip to go fishing. We also went to Lake Murray for our senior trip and a bunch of teachers went with us. We traveled by train, and there was a band on one of the boxcars. We had a great time dancing. You could not possibly do some of this stuff today. To the best of my memory, no one got in trouble.”

Most of Archilla’s high school memories are fond ones, but he does recall one difficult day – the day President Kennedy visited Dallas.

“They let the schools out for that day. I was downtown with three of my LH friends, including our Egyptian exchange student, Reda El Sobky. As Kennedy drove by, we reached for each other and the motorcycle cop almost hit me to push me back. Moments later, he was shot. It was a major event for our nation, our school and ourselves. It was especially poignant to see Reda’s reaction to the event. He was completely overwhelmed that this could happen in America.”

Principal Anderson presents football district trophy to Coach Georges and team captains
Principal Anderson presents football district trophy to Coach Georges and team captains

Many memories are of LH families pulling together as a community.

“Jack Evans, former mayor of Dallas, and Herb Walne, founder of Herb’s Paint and Body, were LHHS dads and moving forces in the Quarterback Club [a forerunner of the Wildcat Club]. They did fundraising and supported the Wildcat coaches, like Coach Georges, the football coach, and Coach Russell, the track coach. We played in the football stadium on Greenville Avenue in Richardson.

“We built this community. It was started by our class. We chose the songs, the colors, the mascot. All the traditions you now recognize were started by our class. We knew nothing about what to do, but we created something that has lasted 50 years.”

If you’d like to chat with Archilla and hear more of his stories, he’ll be at the LHHS 50th Celebration, planned for Sunday, March 23rd at 1:30 p.m. on the school grounds. Performances by student groups, display of vintage memorabilia and the return of numerous alumni teachers and students are planned. The committee is hoping to see a great turnout from new families to LH as well as former students, teachers and parents. You can follow the activities on their Facebook page here.

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