PHOTO: Wild alum Brian Williams with his billet family, February 2017. CREDIT: Russ Alman
by Arch Ecker
It’s Mothers Day, 2017. The cell phone belonging to Rosie White dings, signaling an incoming text message. Then it dings again. And again. Mothers Day wishes are pouring in from all corners of the globe. Rosie, along with husband Jeff, have two sons of their own, but after eight seasons of opening their home to Wenatchee Wild hockey players, their extended family continues to grow. “We’ve billeted 18 players so far”, Jeff White explains. “Some for a few weeks, some for a few years. The relationships we have formed with the players and their families are immeasurable.”
The White’s story is one that is echoed in several other homes around the Wenatchee Valley. As the Wild enter their tenth season here in Wenatchee, the relationships that have grown have been life-changing and fulfilling.
The term “billet” originally was used in regard to military personnel who would take up residence in civilian homes during times of conflict. In the sporting world, it refers to the housing provided for young student athletes aged 16-20 who have left home to compete for high-level sports teams as they pursue their dreams of playing at the collegiate or professional levels.
Lisa and Ric Van Well saw the positive experiences some of their friends were having as billet families, and as season ticket members with a son who played the game, they felt they would like to support the Wild and be more involved. They were pleasantly surprised to find it wasn’t just the relationship with the players that was rewarding. “I have become close with the moms of the players. There is nothing like the love and dedication of a hockey mom”, Lisa Van Well shared, going on to add, “One of my former players’ mother is one of my dearest friends.”
Michelle Coble and her husband Ray had been around the program for years but this past season took their first player in, and found the experience enriched everyone in the household. “Initially we approached our involvement as a way to give back to the community and help support these young men, many of which are living huge distances from their families”, she revealed. “Our billet (Brian Williams) quickly meshed into our family and provided a positive role model for our young teenage son demonstrating on a daily basis what hard work, dedication, and perseverance can achieve.”
Some families are familiar with the game of hockey, and in particular the Wild when they get into billeting a player. For Chad and Carrie Byrd, the learning curve was more pronounced. “The main reason we chose to become billets is that we had an open room and felt our family could help a young man live his dream of playing hockey”, Carrie remembers. “When we started (in 2011), we knew very little about hockey.” That has changed drastically over the years. When asked to describe a favorite moment in their billet experience, the response was detailed. “Describing a favorite billeting experience is like answering, “what is your favorite experience with your family.” There isn’t just one. We love laughing over family dinners. We love seeing how our younger sons automatically clear their plates without being asked because they see their billet brother doing it. We love having those long conversations on the sofa helping them sort out important decisions. We love the special occasion fun: carving pumpkins, picking out Christmas trees, celebrating family birthdays. We love it when they call years later and ask if they can “come home to visit.” However, probably the favorite thing is when we get a phone call or e-mail a few years later thanking us and saying how much our family affected them and how much they appreciated everything. We now have 12 additional sons who we are so thankful for. They affected us for the better, too.”
Billeting is an amazing experience that is suitable for a wide variety of home demographics. There can be young children, older children, no children, pets, or no pets. All that’s needed is a personal space including a bed, internet access for studies and team communications, and a comfortable and supportive living environment. In return, billet families get a monthly stipend check from the Wild for $300, and a “buy one – get one free” season ticket voucher for Wild home games.
Both the Wenatchee Wild and Wenatchee Wolves have their players in billet homes, meaning approximately 45 beds are needed each season. Using a thorough screening process, players are matched with homes that provide the best match for both parties with regards to things like allergies, pets, religious beliefs, and more. Some homes choose to take in more than one player, while others are more comfortable with a single billet.
As families in the Wenatchee area consider whether billeting a player is right for them, those who have taken the step offer words of advice, and encouragement. Ray and Michelle Coble say, “Treat them like they are your own. They are a member of your family and not rock stars to be held in any higher regard than the rest of your family. Keep them to the same high standards you set for your own kids as well as those set by the coaching staff, and at all times be consistently supportive, but firm. They will respect you for it.” Chad and Carrie Byrd note, “You always have the coaches to fall back on. If it doesn’t work, for whatever reason, you could always call a coach who will support you. The coaches are the players “big issue” disciplinarians — not you. If they break curfew, the coaches will handle it. If their grades aren’t up to par, the coaches will handle it. You get to be the “good guy.” Think of it like being the favorite aunt or uncle.” The Van Well family has discovered, “Give it time, it will feel natural quickly. The kids that have been to our house have been respectful and thankful. However, they are teenagers to young men, they do need direction, encouragement, as well as space at times.” The White family adds their own bit of wisdom. “Outline your family’s expectations for the player the first day. Hockey players are rule followers by nature and if the expectations are set early it will make the experience a lot easier. Also, have dinner with them nightly, take time to talk with the players and get to know them away from hockey.”
The experience of billeting has changed the lives of Jeff and Rosie White in ways they never would have guessed. “After not attending a hockey game before having a player live with our family, we are now a hockey family. Our oldest son plays in the Wild Development Program on the Tier 1 U16 Wilderness team, and our youngest son has been playing hockey for two years. We have travelled all over the United States watching our son play hockey as well as travelling to Buffalo and Colorado in the middle of the winter to watch boys that have lived with us play college hockey.”
Over 250 players have played for the Wenatchee Wild through the first nine seasons, from 8 different countries and 26 different states. For everyone, a unique story, and a unique opportunity for a family here in the Valley. With the Wild preparing for “Year Ten In The Den”, players will begin arriving in Wenatchee for their official report date of August 21. For more information on becoming a billet family, click this link: http://www.wenatcheewildhockey.com/housing-family-information.
To schedule a meeting, please call the Wild office at 509-888-7825 and ask for Chris Clark or Ryan McKelvie.