Billets: The Unsung Heroes of the Giants Organization

 

Billet families are the unsung heroes that allow junior hockey teams to operate successfully. The Vancouver Giants have a fantastic network of billet families that have helped shape and develop players so they can have success in the future. Sarah Wiebe and Andrea DeWolff are two of these fantastic hosts that the Giants have relied upon to provide a home to some of their young players. In recent interviews, they shared some stories of what billet life is like, as well as the pride they have in their new “adopted” children.

Family Bonding:

An important part of billeting is ensuring the players feel comfortable and part of the family. Each house does this differently. For Sarah that includes a nightly tradition. “We all have dinner together, every night at 6 pm. It is a family dinner where everyone is there; unless they have something going on. That was important to me.” Inviting these players into your home and treating them like family allows the players to feel comfortable, and provide that family element while playing away from home.

(Photo Coursey of Andrea DeWolff)

Andrea hosted Bowen Byram. For Andrea, Byram became like another son. Byram played with her kids that were all under 12 at the time and even attended their birthday parties. “Bowen showed up for our son Carter’s eighth birthday at his hockey practice at 8 am (early for a teen on a day off) and skated with Carter’s team. It was so much fun for all the kids and such a genuine gesture from Bo. It meant the world to all of us.”

Watching Their Players Succeed:

Over the course of a billet’s time with a family, they grow a special connection. They become like family to each other. When the players have success, the billets feel a sense of pride. When Bowen Byram won Gold at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup back in 2018, Andrea and her family were there to witness it. “We went on a road trip to Edmonton to watch and support him in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. It was the most fun as a family we have ever had. Having him to cheer on and supporting him made it that much better. We really feel like he is part of the family.”

(Photo Courtesy of Andrea DeWolff)

Andrea was also there to see Byram get drafted fourth overall to the Avalanche. “The draft was in Vancouver which was super awesome because we got to go watch. It was so exciting. I was so happy for him and so grateful we got to experience that part of it. It has been a cool experience to watch him go through this.”

Becoming Second Parents to the Players:

Sarah who has billeted for many years feels the same level of pride whenever she sees her players succeed. “They become part of your family and I am ridiculously proud of my two boys but also the whole team. These kids are like our own. We go to all of the games. Most of their parents are from different provinces and don’t get to see them play so I feel like that is our obligation.

Communication between parents and billets is another key part of the job. “They are kind of our family too,” says Sarah when talking about her player’s families. “I still text with our first billet from 2012. I still text with his mom.” The bond these billets have with both the players and their parents is important to the success of the program. If the parents do not trust the billet for whatever reason, that added stress can cause strain on all parties involved. Having an open dialogue and even sometimes allowing parents to come and stay with the billet family can enhance the experience for everybody.

(Photo Courtesy of Andrea DeWolff)

The Impact on the Players:

It is very important that the players have positive role models in their lives. Moving away from home at such a young age is difficult, so the work the billet families do in creating a safe space and treating the players like family has lasting impacts on these players. Tristen Nielsen who billeted with Sarah Wiebe really enjoyed his time with her family.

(Photo Courtesy of Andrea DeWolff)

“Sarah is a very outgoing honest person. Says what she believes and sticks to it. She’s been great to me and everyone that has been through this house since I’ve been here. She wants what’s best for us and spoils us. She is a very good cook and makes amazing cakes for our birthday!!!”

The Importance of Billets:

Billets are important because, without them, teams in the WHL would not be able to operate. Since these kids are still in high school, they need that guidance to help them through the season. It is very difficult for a 16-year-old to move to a different province, let alone live by themselves while managing school, practices, team meetings, and games. Having that surrogate family that helps you whenever you need it is invaluable. The work billet families do keep junior hockey running. Although their important role is not often talked about, they are undoubtedly appreciated by players, families, and the teams they support. Kudos to the billet families!!

(Photo Courtesy of Andrea DeWolff)

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