Coaching turnover in sports programs often includes lots of philosophy changes, alteration to training plans, and switching up recruitment strategy. But recently, the University of Wisconsin Green Bay has brought in one of the biggest coaching changes in recent CCSA history.
When Jeremy Hecker left the position of UWGB’s Head Coach last spring, it was a major loss to the program. Hecker who had experience working with one of the best professional teams in the U.S. (Stratton Mountain School), along with international coaching experience in Australia and Finland was making efforts to grow the program and had sent one woman to the NCAA National Championships both years he was at UWGB. Despite announcing his departure in the spring, the Nordic Skiing Head Coach Position was not filled until late this summer, and it ended by being an unconventional pick by the UWGB Athletic Department.
The new selection, Lee Reinke, has many years of coaching experience under him. He is entering his fifth year at Green Bay and has experience building programs from the ground up. The plot twist is that Reinke is currently the Director of Men’s and Women’s Golf, alongside his new position as Director of Nordic Skiing at UWGB.
Reinke started in college athletics as a DIII golfer and basketball player at Wisconsin Lutheran College where highlights of his student-athlete career included 1,000 points scored in basketball and a conference championship win in golf. He then owned and operated his own golf course for 17-years before the opportunity arose to coach collegiate golf at UWGB. Despite having only previously coached golf at the high-school level, Reinke believed he could step up to the challenge. “Golf is played the same at any level and I feel like I can relate with [collegiate] student-athletes very well.”
Lee Reinke’s methods were based on teaching organization, recruiting, fundraising, and his passion for the athletes. He created more training trip opportunities for the teams, established an indoor training simulator for golfers to practice in the winters, and recruited some of the best talent in the Midwest. His efforts quickly became visible when his own son took 3rd in the Conference, the first time a Phoenix had podiumed since 2012. Reinke’s first recruiting class produced the Horizon League Champion and NCAA Qualifier in 2019, along with setting the program record for the best 18-hole and 36-hole team scores.
When the Athletic Director approached Lee Reinke this summer and asked if he would consider taking over the Nordic Ski Team, Reinke naturally had some concerns. “I can coach golf, but I am not a coach of nordic skiing. I do however bring attributes that will help the nordic teams and with getting the right assistance, my hope is we can continue to develop the rich tradition that previous coaches before I have built”. UWGB Nordic Team started practices the second week of September, and while his knowledge of skiing may be limited, Reinke’s passion for the athletes and coaching is obvious. “He is working really hard to come to all of our practices and to learn what he can while working with the seniors on the team and last year’s schedule.” says freshman CJ Young, “It’s working out well.” Reinke has been meeting and interviewing with people within the ski community, working on absorbing information, learning things, and working on gaining interest for a knowledgeable assistant and volunteer coaches for the team. “I do not know Nordic Skiing, but I am going to be involved. I care, I care about them [the athletes] a lot. And I think they have come to realize that in the last two weeks. They know I have their back. We are looking to build, but I am not naïve, it will take time.”
Reinke’s involvement looks to be a promising addition to the program. Having roots already in the UWGB athletic department and expressing he wants to stick around for at least another ten or so years will add the stability this program has not seen in a long time. The team’s roster size is currently very small, so Reinke’s drive for recruiting along with his priority of fundraising is promising for the growth of the organization. However, what stands out most is Lee Reinke’s passion to connect with these athletes and take on this challenge. “Even if I know nothing about skiing, I am asking them just to give me a shot and them to trust me. I pull no punches and in the last two weeks, I’ve learned a lot. I also know I have 10 years of learning ahead of me. We are going to have a totally different conversation based on my ski knowledge in five years- heck, I might even be on skis!”