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Flaghangers and football stadiums: 50 years of memories at Lake Highlands High

Fang newspaper and Wildcat yearbook staff

When Lake Highlands High School opened on Church Road in 1964, the building wasn’t fully ready for students. The front A Hall was finished but most other facilities weren’t, so administrators kept most students at the original building, now known at Lake Highlands Junior High, and devised a plan to send only seventh graders to the new facility for classes for one year since their teaching needs were simplest.

That’s how the Class of 1970 became the first students to use LHHS, and how they formed bonds that keep them close more than 50 years later.

The students returned to Lake Highlands Junior High for eighth and ninth grades, and those years, too, were memorable. One day during Mrs. Chandler’s math class, the students looked up and realized the teacher and classmate Robert Grinsfelder were running out toward Walnut Hill.

“A woman had come into the school office and left her child in the car, but she didn’t put her car in park,” explained classmate Adrienne Jamieson White. “The car was rolling away, so Robert jumped in and stopped the car – it was a lot of excitement for sixth period math.”

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The stories are just a couple of the recollections shared by the LHHS Class of 1970 reunion planning team, which met Saturday to share party plans and research missing classmates. The group will celebrate its 50th anniversary with two events: a reunion at the Homecoming football game Oct. 18 at Wildcat Stadium’s Pressbox Plaza, planned by former LHHS principal Dr. Bob Iden, and a “prom” May 2, 2020, at the Westin Park Central planned by former Highlandette captain Barbara Yarborough Lown. You can learn more at LHHSwildcats.com.

Grinsfelder’s heroics were impressive, but not every member of the Class of 1970 was considered a hero by campus staff.

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Skip Gaston is the first to admit he was “up to no good” while enrolled at LHHS. As one of the school’s original Flaghangers, he gave school administrators and local police unmitigated grief.

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“The cheerleaders did a skit at a pep rally one day, and Diane Hamilton left a [prop] bedsheet in the hallway with ‘property of Diane Hamilton’ written on the side. We were playing Richardson High School – the first time we had ever played Richardson – and we made a flag out of that sheet that said, ‘Lake Highlands Wildcats will beat the Richardson Eagles, the proud birds with the brass ass.’ The picture was of an eagle with a flagpole up its backside, and that night, Don Neighbors and I drove to Richardson High and climbed the television tower they used to have at the school and hung that first flag. Mike Wiley was our artist, and it grew from there, with more people joining and hanging more flags.

“We were not legitimate,” added Gaston. The organization lasted years and recently had a drink named in its honor at Cedar & Vine. “We went everywhere in the middle of the night, and every sheet we hung said, ‘donated by Diane Hamilton.’

“A bunch of us started it because we weren’t allowed to do anything. A girl I knew was nominated for Homecoming Queen, and she asked me to escort her onto the field. The school told me, ‘no chance.’ I was more apt to be in the principal’s office. I was a hooligan,” he said.

Like a military veteran telling old war stories, Gaston pointed to his hand while telling the rest of the story.

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“One night we did two flags – South Garland High and Lake Highlands – just for an extra boost. When I dropped down off the roof, I was hanging by the gutter and my senior ring caught and pulled off my finger. Paul Landon had to drive me to Garland Memorial Hospital, and they sewed it back together.

“Another time the Denison police escorted us to the city line and told us not to come back. When we went over to Pearce, we washed off all the red and blue tempura paint the cheerleaders had put up and wrote new messages in red and black. Then we put up a flag that said ‘Piss on Pearce.’ It had a football player inside a commode and a larger player next to him. As we were leaving, Richardson’s finest pulled up. They didn’t notice we had painted the windows, but they did make us take down the flag. We had to retrieve it from Principal Anderson. He wasn’t happy. I don’t think Diane Hamilton was happy either.”

Texanne Amstutz Sotack learned to cook from her mom, Maxine Amstutz, who taught earth science at LHJH and, later, home economics at LHHS.

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“All of our moms were good cooks back then, mostly because there weren’t many restaurants around,” she said. “I never had pizza until I went to Campisi’s in high school, and we used to get hamburgers five for a dollar on Friday night at Adam’s drugstore at Ferndale and Northwest Highway. My mom would give me a dollar and send me on my bicycle to pick up burgers for the whole family.”

Candy Moser Hagan recalled skipping school with Robert Grinsfelder to go downtown for a “Richard Nixon for President” rally in 1968. (If you don’t believe her, ask her to sing Nixon’s the One, which she still recalls and can sing perfectly on key.)

“We sneaked down to the $100-a-plate dinner,” Hagan said. “And we made it through salad and the first course before being kicked out.”

It wasn’t the first time politics reared its head on campus.

“When I was Student Council President,” Grinsfelder remembered, “Principal Anderson called me down to his office and asked my advice about the S.D.S [Students for a Democratic Society] picketing across the street [at what was then called Skyline Park]. I asked if they were threatening the school, and he said they weren’t. I told him we should monitor the situation, but the police had the protest in hand. My advice was not to make it a big deal. The next thing I knew, he was on the P.A. [public address system] telling students they could not go out to demonstrate. Of course that made them want to go outside all the more.”

Grinsfelder also recalled the racial integration of LHHS during his senior year.

“They bused students from Hamilton Park, half to Lake Highlands and half to Richardson High. We had about 100 new classmates and we tried to welcome them as much as we could. In fact two of our student council officers were African American. It was difficult, though. Hamilton Park seniors had been together for 11 years before being split up. ”

This year will also mark the 50th year of Wildcat Stadium.

“Before that we played our games at Richardson High School, which pissed us off,” recalled Dr. Iden, laughing. “We wanted a stadium of our own.”

During spring football his junior year, the future principal and his teammates got their chance.

“RISD had just finished construction of Wildcat Stadium, and a flatbed pulled up packed with sod. The football team got behind it while it rolled and laid that sod, so it is, literally, the house that we built,” Iden said.

“I can still remember marching out onto that field,” Lown said wistfully. “I can remember how it felt to be in that stadium under those lights.”

Of course, the Highlandette uniform looked different back then.

“On Thursday nights we would starch and iron our skirts before Friday pep rallies and games, because they had to be stiff,” remembered Marilyn Massey. “And we had to practice so we wouldn’t have ‘chicken arms’ when we marched.”

“We have all stayed friends,” said Sotack. “We’ve watched each other have children and grandchildren on Facebook, and our sense of community in Lake Highlands is unparalleled, because our teachers loved us and cared about us like family. We are each other’s childhood.”

Bell Boys back row: David Grinsfelder and Steve Wilson; front row: Lindsey Owens and Joe Calloway

Homecoming nominees in the first year LHHS had a tie for queen: Barbara Harris and Patty Tate

Barry Sorrels, Doug Geldert, Don Jarma and Perry Senn (in car) sing at the pre-game bonfire at Flag Pole Hill

Highlandettes pose behind the school

Wildcat football team

About the Author:

Carol Toler
Contributor CAROL TOLER and her husband, Toby, are the parents of four Lake Highlands High School graduates: Lindsay (2005), Laura (2006), Will (2009) and Ben (2010). She has an MBA from SMU and a passion for writing good-news stories about fascinating people. Email ctoler@advocatemag.com.