When you are a female ice hockey player and there are no female teams in your hometown, let alone an elite team, you are at a disadvantage with collegiate coaches looking for players who excel in the female game. For years, Western Washington Female Hockey Association (WWFHA) has accepted players in this situation from all over the Northwest, providing them a place to play and compete. This year is no different, except that for the first time ever, three players from Eastern Washington opted to billet with one Host Family to play for the Washington Wild U19 Rep team, the top female team in the state.
“Without a top tier girls’ team to play on, your dreams of playing collegiately or on the Olympic team become that much more remote,” says Cindy Dayley, president of WWFHA. “The Wild offers a place to compete and train with the top talent in the state, and the opportunity to be seen by college coaches. WWFHA also provides experience beyond the rink, helping build the player off the ice, as much as on the ice. The billeting experience is just one more thing the WWFHA family offers to help student-athletes reach their goals.”
The Wild U19 Rep team competes in the Canadian Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association (PCAHA) Tier 1 league, travels to scouted tournaments in the US and Canada, and vies for USA Hockey Tier 2 Districts and Nationals. Each player is looking to advance her game and get more exposure to collegiate scouts. The players who billet get all of this and so much more by living, going to school, and playing with their teammates.
Steve and Maggie White, the parents of four daughters, decided to accept not just one, but three ice hockey players into their home. Originally, two players joined the White household and a third joined mid-season.
The Whites have been part of the WWFHA family for a long time; two of their four daughters have played in the association. Lauren, their youngest, is a junior forward who started playing with the Wild 10 years ago with WWFHA’s U12 team. She has been a Washington Wild player ever since. Steve has volunteered in numerous positions in the association, serving as the Rep team manager for the past 2 years.
Maggie explains why the family decided to billet so many players this year, “Steve and I have been involved with girls’ hockey through WWFHA since 2004. Hosting players is one way we can help out the association and encourage quality female players to play for the Wild. We also have three of our four kids in college, so it was starting to get too quiet in the house!”
All Washington Wild Rep players are looking to enhance their game and advance to the collegiate level. Some of the players live hundreds of miles away from Seattle. Dayley says, “We have one player commuting from Wenatchee this year, and have had several players do so historically. Beyond that distance the drive can be tough with 2-3 practices a week in Shoreline or Everett and 2 games each weekend in Bellingham or lower mainland BC. So billeting with a host family is a great solution. Not only do the players get a great hockey experience, but a great life experience that prepares them for college life.”
Ryanne Mix, daughter of Debbie and Kendall Mix, is a freshman defenseman from Kennewick, WA – 215 miles east of Seattle. Ryanne knew of other past players who played with the Washington Wild from the Tri-Cities in the past. She also knew it was too far for her and her family to commute. At fourteen, living away from home can be hard, especially when you don’t know the host family. She says: ‘I didn't meet my host family until try outs. It wasn't really hard because the billet family was very welcoming, as well as the older girls on the team.”
Debbie says, “Our daughter wanted to transition to girls’ hockey this year and it was her choice to do that. So again the driving factor came into play, so we decided to billet. We have had experience billeting our older son already so we knew what to expect. She would only be 3 1/2 hours away so it wasn't too traumatic. We knew we would see her at least twice a month and could be there fairly quickly if an emergency arose.”
Debbie continues, “I knew that if I tried to drive every week, I would have gotten burned out really fast. The season is long and I knew it was unrealistic to expect myself to commit to that much travel and take time off work. Plus I wasn't keen on driving over the pass late at night on a Sunday and still expect to function the next day. I'm not that young anymore!”
Carrington Nevard, daughter of Todd Nevard and Pamela and Trae Rockwell, is a sophomore goalie from Richland, WA – 202 miles east of Seattle. Carrington wanted to join the team, and knew billeting was a good solution to the distance challenge. Carrington says she joined the team “to play hockey at a more experienced and competitive level and get exposure to college scouts.” She didn’t know the Whites well. “I met them a couple times before moving in so it was really awkward at first, and we never knew what to talk about at first, but it got a lot easier after a week or so.” She is thrilled with her decision because she is able to “put more focus on hockey and school.”
Carrington’s mother, Pamela, says, “After weighing the costs of travel, wear and tear on the car, and our time, we decided that it would be way more cost effective for her to live with a billet family.”
Carrington’s father, Todd says, “It also provided Carrington with an opportunity to bond better with teammates and fully enjoy the experience of being a part of the team on a higher level.”
Brighton Noble, daughter of David Noble, is a senior forward from Wenatchee, WA – 148 miles from Seattle. While other players have commuted from Wenatchee, Brighton chose to billet because she wanted to “travel to new places I've never been, get to know new people, and have a coach who would really help me improve my game, skating and other skills. I decided to move in with the Whites because they are in a very central location to all the rinks [Shoreline, Everett, Bellingham].”
Although Brighton didn’t billet initially, she says, “The best part about billeting was living with 3 of my teammates. Moving to a new place is hard when you don't know anybody or have any friends. Getting to know my billet sisters really well helped with that a lot.” She continues, “I felt comfortable with my billet family a couple weeks after moving in. I still felt like a guest until I got to know the family and their rules better. We have family dinners that provide a time to talk and bond with everyone.”
Billeting is a natural extension for players in the WWFHA family, as it connects nicely with the rapid growth and development players experience on and off the ice. Dayley points out, “Billeting not only reduces travel for the player, but it is a great learning and growing experience for the player. Players experience consistent skill development, team-building opportunities, time management and character building skills when they are on a regular team, all of which help prepare the student-athlete for college. Collegiate coaches tell us all the time that they won’t look at tournament teams as they don’t provide enough long-term development, team-play and unity, which is required at the higher level.
Todd Nevard mentions the change he sees in his daughter, “About a month after she [Carrington] moved away to start the season I caught up with her for lunch during a business trip to Seattle. After about 20 minutes I realized that my 15 year old daughter had matured and become so personally responsible in that month away that I told her it was like I was visiting with her 23 year old brother.” Pamela says, “She has matured. She has taken more control of every aspect of her game. She is more responsible for herself (taking care of her gear, her fitness, nutrition, etc.). She seems more grown up since moving over there!”
And the players feel different, too, after billeting and playing for a travel Rep team. Ryanne says she enjoys the team, the extensive work out training and the great coach. She also says, “It's great hanging out with girls who have the same level of interest in hockey as I do. I have also learned a lot about the girls’ game and improved my confidence and skills.” Carrington says she enjoys the extras WWFHA provides, especially from the pro-staff such as the “well-body sessions and college prep talks and advice.” Brighton believes she has changed as well, saying, “I've grown on the ice because I've gotten a lot faster and my skating has really improved, I've learned to see the ice and keep my head up. I've grown off the ice because I've become much more independent.”
(L to R): Ryanne, Brighton, Carrington, Lauren
Billeting with a host family is not easy, and it can be scary at first for both the player and the parents. WWFHA works hard to connect families so they can learn about each other and see if there is a good fit before any plans are set into motion. Billeting is a big decision, and the host family plays a big role. Knowing the host player and meeting the entire family is critical.
Todd Nevard says what helped them was “the info provided by the Wild - transparency and thoroughness of the screening of Host Family and the opportunity to meet with them before making a commitment.” Pamela also said, “The help and support we were receiving from WWFHA with our billions of questions and concerns was helpful.”
If you are considering billeting, there are many aspects to figure out from living arrangements, to house rules to school transfer. Todd suggests, “Make sure you are comfortable with the family and living arrangements. We feel very fortunate the White family took Carrington in. They are an amazing family.” Pamela suggests, “Be sure to ask questions! Do a cost analysis for travel, billet costs, etc. Get to know the billet families. Find out if it’s a good fit for your daughter. For us, we left the decision up to Carrington and she wanted to do it because she REALLY wanted to play for this team.”
She continues: “Set your daughter up with her own bank account…it has helped us send her money for extra expenses and teaches her how to be financially responsible. It also helps to be there if/when she enrolls in another school. This has been a very good experience so far and she’s learning a lot of new things!”
Debbie Mix also talks about making the decision and advice she would offer to others. “If you think your daughter is ready for the challenge then go for it. Is your daughter independent, or not? We had several talks about what it would be like and also the added pressure of going to a brand new school as a freshman where she only knew two people. We also have certain expectations - the priority being school. If the grades drop or there are issues with discipline then that's grounds for moving back home and off the team. Another suggestion is to having your child sign a contract outlining the expectations. That way there should be an understanding of what is required of your child as it is in writing and they are agreeing to abide by those rules. Our kids understand that this is a privilege to be able to do this, and it can all go away with one bad choice.”
Communication between parent and child can be hard even under the same roof, but with today’s technology connecting is much easier than in the past. All the players, families and friends make use of text messages, phone calls and social media. In Canada (an out of data coverage area), Facebook Messaging is used to keep connected. And of course, they drive to as many games as possible on the weekends. Brighton says, “I stay in touch with my friends mainly over text and since I'm only a couple hours away from my family they come to watch any games they are able to attend.”
WWFHA gave the Whites some tips and guidelines, since they had not hosted players before; however, the White family now has a few insights of their own on hosting.
Maggie says, in the beginning “Lauren knew a little bit about the background of the girls before they came. Steve and I had conversations with the parents of our billet girls in order to gather some background information. I also attended some of the tryouts so I could meet the girls and their parents.” Maggie explains how she set thing up. “I wanted the girls to feel at home so they were instructed on how to use the washing machine. They were encouraged to bring things from home to have in their room or to decorate their room with. The girls know that they need to tell us if they were going out and tell us where they are going. They have a curfew.”
About meeting her new billet team mates for the first time, Lauren says, “I had only met the other players at two practices, so the first day they moved in it was a bit awkward because we didn’t know each other that well, but that didn’t last long. Now it is great because it’s just like having a sister, but you don’t fight as much. We are together 24/7. Sometimes it is a lot, but mostly fun! And the best part is that we get to hang out all the time together.”
The hardest thing, Maggie says, “is always making sure there is enough food in the house! It makes me a little nervous when the kids get injured or they are sick and they are under your care.” Maggie says the best thing about billeting “is the time we spend sitting at the dinner table on the nights there is not practice and sharing stories of the day and talking hockey.”
Another tip from Maggie: “The best advice would be to try to make sure that each child has their own room. Even though the kids spend a lot of time together, studying, playing hockey, going to school, etc., it is good for them to have their own place to hang for a while.”
Maggie says, “Hosting a player is a rewarding experience. Make sure there is an open line of communication with the player’s parent so they are aware if you have any concerns about their child. Find out what they like to eat or some of their favorite things so you have them around the house. The girls get really excited when I buy one of their favorite foods or snacks. They are very polite and thankful. It did not take them too long to get comfortable living in the house with us.”
School is a critical piece of the puzzle. Twenty-five of the top teams in the country are academically elite or Ivy League schools. Billeting offers several schooling options for players, such as online, or going to school with the host player either for the full year or a partial year. Each player chooses what works best for them academically and socially.
Ryanne, Carrington and Brighton all go to Glacier Peak High School with Lauren. Brighton tried online school originally, but preferred the interaction with teachers and students to the online experience. After she moved in with the Whites, she went to school as one of the billet sisters. “I am going to school with other players and I am taking 3 Running Start college classes for my final set of classes.” Lauren says, “It is really fun to go to school together. We are well received because we tell everyone that we play hockey and everyone thinks that is awesome.” Ryanne says the transition was “pretty easy. We toured the school before the first day school and my billet sister was there to help.”
According to Pamela, “She [Carrington] is currently enrolled as a sophomore at Glacier Peak High School where her billet sisters attend. We are playing it by ear as far as her moving back home to go to Hanford High after the hockey season or finishing out the school year there.” Todd says, “While she is 100% committed to the Wild and her hockey goals, she has very strong bonds with her friends back home and may want to spend at least part of the year with them and we feel those bonds are important to maintain to make her a well-rounded person.”
Todd says the hardest thing for him was when his daughter got hurt. “It was very difficult for all of us when she was injured this season and we weren't there to help and comfort her, however finding her way through that challenge has made her a mentally tougher person.”
Carrington thinks the hardest thing is “not being around family and leaving your friends. Also not having your parent/guardian there at your side after a rough day, bad game, injury, homesick, and that sort of thing.”
Ryanne says players “don’t get to go home much. We don’t have any free weekends and we did not get home for Christmas. But my family isn’t too far away and I see them frequently.”
Being away from home is tough on both the athlete and the parent; however, the pros outweigh the cons for the personal and hockey opportunities achieved. Both parent and player see the benefits and are glad they took the big step to billet.
Pamela says benefits include “the opportunities that have been afforded to Carrington; the friendships / bonding she has formed with her “new” family, the experience of living away from home, and the new friendships from attending a new school.”
Ryanne feels like she “has learned to be independent. It's a big commitment to keep up the school work, travel and workouts, but if you manage your time well… it's great.”
Debbie says, “Trust yourself that you will know if your daughter is ready to billet.” Debbie says ask yourself, “Are they mature enough to handle the responsibility? I think they learn great life lessons and when it comes time to head off to college it won't be a big deal at all.”
Todd says, “The friendships she [Carrington] has developed with the White family, the other girls in the house and her teammates are relationships I'm sure she will have for a long time to come. Also the empowerment she feels in being on her own at such a young age is invaluable as a life lesson for her. It has given her a huge head start on the path to adulthood.”
(L to R): Ryanne, Carrington, Lauren, Brighton