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Fortier 'ecstatic' to be next Lakeland coach

It has been a bizarre three months for T-Bird sports fans since longtime Lakeland Union High School boys' basketball coach Ted Voigt retired.

Former Rhinelander High School boys' basketball coach and current Arbor Vitae-Woodruff principal Rich Fortier has emerged as Lakeland's next coach following a contentious period where several members of the Lakeland community supported Fortier, while Lakeland adminstration preferred former Menomonie head coach Levi Massey.

Fortier declined to go into detail about his feelings regarding Lakeland administrators' decision to recommend Massey over him for the job. In a sit-down conversation with the River News Wednesday, Fortier said he is ready to move on.

"I'm ecstatic to be the next Lakeland basketball coach after Ted Voigt," he said.

Fortier was the Lakeland school board's choice on a 7-2 vote Monday after they shot down the administration's recommendation of Massey, 5-4, for the second month in a row.

The closest Fortier came to speaking about the three months he spent in limbo was when he thanked his school and the community members who went to bat for him during the process.

"It felt good to be supported by many people that knew me and many people that didn't even know me," he said.

Fortier said he reached out to Massey Tuesday morning and would be willing to offer Massey a position on his staff.

Lakeland administration had reservations about Fortier because he works outside the Lakeland Union High School district - Arbor Vitae-Woodruff Elementary is its own district - and because questions loomed about whether he could be a principal and a head basketball coach at the same time.

Fortier insists it will not be a problem.

"When I'm at basketball, it will just be about basketball. When I'm at AV-W, it will be about AV-W," he said.

Fortier said that the countdown to the start of the boys' basketball season is under way and he is eager for November to roll around.

"I can't wait for it," he said. "I'm chomping at the bit. I can't wait to go. I can't wait to get to the first day of practice. I can't wait to call our seniors. I can't wait to do all this stuff. I'm ready for it. Let the leaves change. Let the snow fly. Let's play some basketball."

Fortier went 183-134 in 14 seasons at Rhinelander, with three WIAA state tournament appearances and two Wisconsin Valley Conference championships. He admitted that it will be hard for him when he faces Rhinelander Jan. 8 in Minocqua and Feb. 12 at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium.

More from our conversation with Fortier, including his thoughts on facing his former team and his take on replacing Voigt, will be published in Tuesday's River News.

Jeremy Mayo may be reached at jeremy@rivernewsonline.com.


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