For those of you who may not know, a billet family offers room and board to junior ice hockey players who leave home to join elite teams in other towns.
Cathy Richardson and her family have been a billet family for the North Bay Battalion for several years now and have nothing but positive things to say about their experiences.
We discussed life as a billet family with Cathy, who definitely recommends becoming a billet family should you have the resources to do so.
What is a billet family? I suppose in the best case scenario, a billet family is the player’s second family. My husband convinced me to billet by asking me “wouldn’t you want a family like ours to take in our son?” Well of course! I have 2 sons - one in competitive hockey who is striving to be drafted and I immediately thought about the kind of home I would want for him. So could I feed one more kid and offer a healthy, fun home? Absolutely.
As I soon learned, the experience does extend far beyond just feeding them and reminding them to bring up their laundry. Many evenings my husband would be with our player after a difficult game, in the basement, talking through the frustration; offering words of encouragement and sometimes devising a plan on how to change things. With both our boys, we were also very close with their parents. We wanted to keep them updated on the things a teenage boy may not be able to put into words, especially being so far from home. Again I thought like a mom. How I would want to know my son’s mood after a game. We often times bridged the distance gap so that their parents could feel at ease with the often unpredictable goings on involved with the hockey business.
I also soon learned that I would love these boys like my own. That my two sons would have an older brother. And that their grandparents would be watching OHL hockey for the first time ever! Our players attended family functions and emptied the dish washer. They were strangers that became family literally overnight.
Many people have questions about what it’s like to billet. We didn’t have to drive our players anywhere. They either had their own car or the team arranges rides. That seems to be a big deterrent and misconception. As tricky as it might be for them, they come into your home and get the low-down on what's expected. By everybody. It may differ from their own home. But the amazing thing I’ve also learned from this experience as the boys move in is that it truly does develop resiliency and the ability to be flexible when needed - from both sides. And at the top of the priority pile is food. It’s kind of a big deal. They are seriously very grateful for home cooking.
My heart broke when our players ended their junior career and moved back home. But as I’ve told both of them; they are “lifers”. We will be at their weddings. And at the good table!