The relationship a junior hockey player develops with his billet family can be a very special one.
Just ask Noelle Arneson, billet co-ordinator for the Victoria Grizzlies.
“Our longest-standing host family (12 years) just went out to one of their former billet’s wedding in Quebec. They’ve stayed in touch over the years,” she says.
That type of long-term connection is one of the benefits of hosting players in one’s home for a season or more, Arneson adds. “To me, hosting a player is having another person become part of your family.”
While hockey season may be more two months away, now is the time when the volunteers behind the scenes of junior clubs like the BCHL’s Grizzlies are hard at work trying to find homes for the out-of-town players to live in during the season. For some players, that situation begins in training camp in August.
The Mantell family of Langford is coming up on its fifth season providing a home for Grizzlies players. Colin Mantell, who worked up on Bear Mountain for a number of years, was originally asked by former Grizzlies owner Len Barrie if he’d be able to host a player or two. Mantell talked to his wife, Deborah, about it and they decided to go for it.
He says they’ve never looked back.
“It’s a great experience. My son’s 13 and my daughter’s 10 now and they’ve grown up with hockey players around the house,” he says. “They look to them as big brothers. The players help out with homework and things and they really become part of the family.”
As for keeping in touch with former players, he agrees with Arneson’s characterization.
They had Courtenay native Myles Powell stay with them a few years back. Not only did they follow his progress last season with RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) as the team qualified for the NCAA Div. 1 tournament for a second time, they usually visit with Powell during the summer when the Mansells haul their travel trailer up to Parksville.
“It’s exciting to keep tabs on the players,” Colin says. “I didn’t grow up playing hockey and neither of my kids play, but we’ve gotten to know a lot about the game.”
Arneson is particular about the families that get involved in the billeting program, for various reasons. She looks for families that have a fairly predictable routine – for example, they’re frequently home for dinner.
“They have to have the right type of lifestyle schedule that would make it easy for the hockey player to fit in,” she says. “When I’m looking for families, I’ll ask, ‘what does your week look like?'”
In the years she’s been involved as a billet or as co-ordinator, she estimates that roughly 90 per cent of the families have children, but it’s certainly not a requirement.
Billet families are responsible for feeding the players, providing a bed and laundry facilities, although the smelly hockey gear stays at the arena, thankfully. Personal effects and expenses, as well as transportation, are the responsibility of the players.
And there is, of course, a monthly stipend paid to billet families, plus all family members in the house receive a season’s ticket.
Arneson says it’s important to note that the majority of players who play for the Grizzlies are smart young men who have a goal in mind, usually to secure a college scholarship. The billet family plays an important role in their personal development, she adds.
Inquiries into the billet program can be sent to Arneson at firstname.lastname@example.org.