Billet families are the unsung heroes behind every win. And Nanaimo needs more of them.
The Nanaimo Clippers and Nanaimo Buccaneers junior hockey clubs are both in need of host families with the seasons fast approaching.
“This year it just happened that a lot of people that did it last year, either they sold their house or they’re selling their house or kids moved home,” said Brenda Levesque, owner of the junior B Buccaneers.
The junior A Clippers are reporting a similar lack of luck with billet families, for “all sorts of reasons,” said David LeNeveu, team president.
“We’re usually pretty close right at this time … but we’re definitely behind the eight-ball a little bit.”
Host families receive monthly stipends and season tickets, but billeting is so much more than that.
“It’s an ongoing, forever relationship because you’ve essentially adopted another child into your family and they’re a foster child for you for that year,” LeNeveu said. “And they can continue to be considered part of your family for the rest of your lives.”
That was the experience of Michael Olson, former Clippers player, when he first came to Nanaimo to play junior A hockey. His own family had billeted players back in Tisdale, Sask., but he couldn’t have foreseen the bond he forged with his billet family.
“I emceed their daughter’s wedding, I was a groomsman for their son’s wedding and their son was a groomsman in my wedding,” Olson said. “When you look at it that way, the entire experience was tremendous.”
He felt as though he became part of the family, and his billet home not only provided balance away from the rink, but was a welcoming environment every day.
“Most of my nights I didn’t really go hang out with a lot of the guys after practice and stuff, I went home and hung out with my billet family because I enjoyed it,” he said.
The relationship extended to the arena, too. Olson said after his dad had always come to all his games growing up, he appreciated his billet dad doing the same, rarely even missing road games around the Island.
“It just gave me that extra sense of comfort, knowing that somebody that I cared about and knew that they cared about me was there to support me,” said Olson.
His relationship with his billet family ended up being a special one, and he said even with his teammates, the billeting experience was almost always positive. He said his coach Bill Bestwick and current coach Mike Vandekamp both put a lot of value in recruiting “good, character kids.
“Committed kids. Kids that are wanting to not only strive and win a championship for Nanaimo, but also be a good community member and person,” Olson said.
For LeNeveu, his experience with billeting started back when he was nine years old in Fernie, B.C. Neighbours had enjoyed hosting, so the LeNeveu family gave it a try. Every year they billeted at least one Fernie Ghostriders junior A player, sometimes two players at a time and occasionally three.
“As kids it was wonderful … growing up in that situation because you had somebody to look up to…” he said. “The players that we did have were all wonderful people, they were role models in the community, they were role models for ourselves as children.”
LeNeveu ended up having a great billeting experience in Nanaimo, coincidentally with the same family that later billeted Olson. LeNeveu was even introduced to his wife through billeting, as her family hosted one of his teammates.
He encourages any family to at least consider the idea of hosting a player, mentioning that some families might try it for a week or two for training camp and see if it works out.
Levesque said billet families make such a difference in the lives of the players.
“A lot of times with the kids, it’s their first time away from home, so I’m kind of looking for families that will make them part of the family…” she said. “They’re usually pretty decent kids and they’re pretty committed to playing hockey and working and going to school and stuff like that.”
ICE CHIPS … For information about hosting a Clippers player, please call Jen at 250-619-1984. For information about hosting a Buccaneers player, please call Brenda at 250-616-1404. The Bucs are particularly looking for families who live close to Nanaimo District Secondary School.