Thursday, February 22, 2024

Lafontaine approaching two decades announcing Bigfork sports

For the Eagle | November 22, 2023 11:55 AM

A lot has changed for the Vikes and Vals over the past two decades. Players come and go, coaching staffs and administrators change. One thing has stayed the same: The Voice.

For the past 18 years, his dulcet tones have echoed through the gym and (since 2018) across the streaming airwaves bringing the excitement of Bigfork High School football, volleyball and basketball into the homes of Vikes and Vals fans across the state and the country.

James Lafontaine wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s kind of crazy that I have been doing this for so long. I was able to tell the kids this year that I have been doing this for longer than they have been alive,” Lafontaine said. “It’s been an honor and a pleasure to be able to keep doing this job for so long.”

Over the years, Lafontaine has been fortunate enough to announce for two boys basketball state title teams, a football championship in 2010 and, most recently, the Valkyries undefeated state basketball title season of 2022-23, but the history of “The Voice” began well before Lafontaine’s time in Bigfork.

“My buddies and I, back in high school, we would pretend that we had our own radio station,” Lafontaine said. “We would use a brush in place of a microphone and we would sing the songs and pretend to be the DJs.”

A graduate of American School of Broadcasting in Spokane, Lafontaine moved to Columbia Falls in 1992 and began working on local radio.

In 2006, Lafontaine was acting as the offensive coordinator for the Bigfork football froshmore team and a special teams coach for the varsity squad when his background in broadcasting came to the attention of then athletic director Shannon Smith during a trip to the Montana Coaches Association meeting.

Lafontaine was asked to sit in for then announcer (and high school principal) Tom Peck to announce a few basketball games and then took over the position exclusively in 2007.

That’s when he earned his nickname.

“I came into the gym one day, and standing against the wall was Matt Jensen,” he recalled. “He looks up at me and he says ‘It’s the Voice.’ That’s where the nickname came from, way back in 2007. It has stuck ever since.”

What began with basketball soon spread out to other sports as Lafontaine truly became the voice of the Vikes and Vals.

“It really started with basketball. The first time I really did football was in 2010. We made the playoffs and wound up having four home games. I would end up doing the PA because I was filming for the team at the time, so I wound up getting to announce for our state championship.”

Countless hours and 10-20,000 miles later, Lafontaine is still bringing his signature style to Vikes and Vals games.

“It’s been a lot of fun. I have traveled all over the state, from Libby, Thompson Falls and Troy to the west all the way out to Glasgow in the east. That’s a lot of miles, but it has been worth every minute,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s not about me. I’m just bringing the games to people that can’t be there. It’s all about the kids and what they do on the field. They do the work and all I have to do is paint a picture of what is happening.”

While a lot has changed since Lafontaine started announcing games in Bigfork, a few things have stayed the same.

“The one thing that hasn’t changed over the years has been the sportsmanship of the Bigfork kids,” he said. “Bigfork is known for how well-mannered our athletes are, and that has to do with the coaching staff and the environment here. I’ve met a lot of coaches and athletic directors from other schools, and so many of them have said that Bigfork is the best environment to come and play basketball in. From the student section and the band to the cheerleaders and the fans, this is just such a great place for sports.”

Looking back, Lafontaine says he has been privileged to witness some amazing moments with the Vikes and Vals, including one earlier this year.

“Radio wise, the best game I have called was the girls championship game this year. In a close second would be the double-overtime divisional game in 2018 with Bigfork taking on Anaconda,” he said. “Anders (Epperly) willed us into double overtime with timely baskets. We were up two in the second overtime and Anaconda’s  Braxton Hill got fouled. He made the first free throw, but missed the second. Anaconda had seven seconds to try to win the game. We were able to block the final shot and get the win. It was just an unbelievable game to call on radio.”

Even with all of the great sports action he has been able to watch over the years, Lafontaine says it’s the students themselves that keep bringing him back to the sidelines.

“This is a great school and I really love the atmosphere, the people here, the sportsmanship and especially the kids,” he said. “It’s a great gig and I get a great seat.”