by Nick Mecca

Junior hockey players often have to pack their bags, leave their families and travel to a new city to pursue their dreams of playing hockey. They are welcomed into the homes of new families called billets and become an adopted son. These families are essential to the development of these athletes on and off the ice.

Becoming a billet family is not just about giving these boys a place to stay and food to eat, they become part of the family. Parents welcome them in like they are one of their children and become their new support system while they are away from home.

To become a billet family, you go through the standard application process of a questionnaire about your household to determine the right fit between player and family, then through background screening and an interview process. After a family is determined to be a good fit the families must go through a few training sessions about how to be a positive and safe environment for the boys.

First year billet family, Jenn and Brent Dodge, housed two athletes last season. “Being a billet family has positively impacted our lives as we have welcomed two boys into our family,” said the Dodges. “They got to know our children, our dogs and our friends and family.”

Even though the boys have now moved out of the house they still keep in contact. “In fact, last night I was texting both boys (one lives in Florida and one in Oklahoma) discussing what they have been up to since they officially graduated high school early this month,” said Jenn Dodge. The Dodge’s were very pleased with their first-year experience and cannot wait to welcome more boys into their home and help them pursue their hockey dreams.

The Ash’s have provided homes for players for the past couple seasons. They were first asked about billeting when their own boys played hockey for the Syracuse Stars organization. They accepted the opportunity willingly and have never looked back.

The Ash family has been greatly impacted by this opportunity, especially with having children playing the same sport and being able to make friends from all over the world.

“The bonds we have formed with these players have been strong. We keep in touch with most and love hearing about their successes. We have even been able to watch some play once they’ve moved on to the next level,” stated Noreen Ash. She also commented that the most rewarding part is knowing that they have made a positive impact on these players lives.

“It’s important that they are eating healthy, have help with homework (if in school), and making good decisions in life. We’re able to help guide them while their parents not physically present.” said Noreen Ash.

Billet families open their homes to boys every year who are looking to achieve their dreams of going pro. They offer them a place to sleep, food and to become part of their family while they are away from their own. If you are interested in becoming a billet family for the 2019-20 season please contact Nicole Kelly at nicolekelly@uticajrcomets.org.