The news brought memories rushing back — the milestones and proud accomplishments, the big hair, the school spirit, those awkward teenage years. Graduates of Southfield-Lathrup High School bid a fond farewell to their alma mater last week when the 49-year-old school on 12 Mile Road in Lathrup Village closed its doors for good.
Declining enrollment (from 1,605 students in 2002-03 to just 800 this year) and financial difficulties for Southfield Public Schools led to the decision to merge Southfield-Lathrup and Southfield High into a new school, Southfield High School for the Arts and Technology.
“I have some really great memories of high school. Those were the years when I experienced the most growth,” says Renee Simlak, 44, of Los Angeles. “Being on the pompom squad was such a highlight for me. It made me so proud every time my mom came to watch me perform at the games.”
Simlak’s mother, Ann, passed away in 1998, so those memories hold special meaning. Today, Renee is passing the Charger spirit down to her 19-month-old daughter, Ava.
“I still have my varsity jacket and the red and white pompoms. My daughter sometimes plays with them,” Simlak says.
Carolyn Krieger-Cohen, 60, of West Bloomfield is a 1974 Southfield-Lathrup grad. Over the last four decades, she has attended high school reunions and kept in touch with many former classmates. She still considers some of them her closest friends.
“I had great teachers and a lot of friends. It was just a close-knit community,” she says. “[Hockey great] Gordie Howe’s son, Mark, was a year ahead of us. All the girls would follow him around as we would walk through the halls.”
Other notable Southfield-Lathrup graduates include Quicken Loans and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky and Sheldon Yellen, CEO of Birmingham-based Belfor Holdings Inc.
Sportscaster Jeff Lesson, 55, of West Bloomfield, launched his successful broadcasting career at Southfield-Lathrup. The 1978 alum hosts the award-winning show “Lesson on Golf,” which airs on 97.1 FM “The Ticket.” His sportscasts can also be heard on WWJ-AM radio. Back in high school, Lesson’s voice first hit the airwaves on the school’s in-house radio station, WSLH.
“I did sportscasts, commentary and play-by-play for Southfield-Lathrup and Southfield High basketball, football and baseball,” he says. “My commentary was called ‘Lesson’s Look’ which later evolved into ‘Lesson on Golf.’”
Pam Zager-Maya, 44, of Hollywood, Fla., was a cheerleader at all of those big games. She was also president of the class of 1990, a softball player and a member of several clubs. Today, she serves as vice president of marketing for the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers and the BB&T Center arena in Sunrise, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale.
“I was blessed to attend a school and grow up in an area where my friends were from different cultures, backgrounds and religions,” she says. “I believe my generation led the way in accepting diversity in our community. The halls of Southfield-Lathrup are where we all came together.”
What will become of the old high school? This fall, students from University High School Academy, UPREP and MacArthur University Academy grades 2-8 will occupy the building.
Many former and current students expressed their sadness on social media.
“I was just in Detroit visiting family and friends, and I had no idea I would never be able to take a trip down memory lane again,” Simlak wrote on her Facebook page. “I would have made a special trip to walk the halls and visit my old classrooms with my daughter for the last time. There is a special bond I have with all of my fellow Southfield-Lathrup alumni that I cannot put into words.”
By Robin Schwartz, Contributing Writer