Most people would say it’s not a good idea to welcome a complete stranger into your home to stay for eight months or so.
But not Yvonne McChesney. She’s been doing that for seven years now, and she plans to continue.
McChesney is a hockey billet mother and the billet co-ordinator for the Weeks Junior A Crushers. Over the years, 20 hockey players have lived at her house in Stellarton – some for short periods during training camp and others who have stayed for all three of the years they played with the team.
McChesney says the best part about billeting is the connections.
“It’s the connections you make with the team, the families, the community — my connection made with these amazing humans that lasts a lifetime.”
The team is currently looking for new billet families to house players for the upcoming season.
A billet family provides a safe and supportive environment for the players when they’re not at the rink.
“It’s a home away from home,” says McChesney. “I don’t have kids of my own, so I treat them like my own.”
All that’s required to be a billet family is to provide the player with their own room with a bed and a dresser, and to supply them with nutritious meals and snacks.
“I make sure I feed them well,” she says with a smile. While those are the minimum requirements, the players — aged 16 to 20 — often become valued members of the family.
Something that usually surprises people is that billet families are not responsible for transporting players. McChesney says if they don’t have their own vehicle, often other players will drive them to the rink for practices and games. Billet families also receive a monthly stipend to help with associated costs.
She says being a billet family is a great way to be a part of the hockey community. She became a billet mother after her brother passed away.
“Our house was different after that – although he lived away, it was still different. I felt that I needed young energy and spirit in my home, so I answered an ad that the Crushers had put out and I attended a meeting.”
Although she was apprehensive at first because she’s a single shift worker, it turns out to be one of the best decisions she’s ever made.
She initially agreed to house two players for training camp until they moved to their residence at St. Francis Xavier University. While they only stayed with her for a week, she says within four days she could have adopted both of them. When they left for university, she decided to take a permanent billet for the season.
“Taylor Davis was my first billet. He became a part of our family and still is to this day, seven years later.” She was even invited to his wedding earlier this year, but wasn’t able to attend due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A lifelong hockey fan, McChesney roots for the Crushers and Toronto Maple Leafs, and says her favourite part of the hockey game is standing in the lobby of the Pictou County Wellness Centre after a game and talking with the players, their parents, and the other billet families. She’s hoping that will be allowed again this season if COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
While most billet families are hockey enthusiasts, billeting is not only for fans of the game, as the Tulloch family of New Glasgow can attest.
It’s probably safe to say that most billet families are already hockey fans before they choose to host a player in their home. But for the Tullochs, it was just the opposite. Having recently emigrated from Scotland, they didn’t know much at all about the sport. That’s exactly why they took the leap to host a Weeks Junior A Crushers player.
“We thought it would be a way to get integrated – to get to know the culture, the place, the people,” says Heather Tulloch.
Although the Tullochs were very involved in sports such as soccer and running in the United Kingdom, they knew nothing about hockey, she says. And because hockey is such a big part of the Pictou County area, and they had a spare room, they thought, “Why not?”
“We had the space and thought it would be good for the kids and us to get to know Canada, get to learn about hockey and get to know people.”
Their first billet was Jordan Moore, and Kevin Tulloch says they likely drove him crazy with all of their questions about hockey. One time he remembers watching a game on TV with Moore and asking why the goalie was leaving the ice in the middle of the game, to find out that it was a delayed penalty.
“I said, ‘oh, that makes sense’. He had the patience of a saint,” says Kevin with a chuckle.
Heather says Moore quickly became a son, a positive role model and a new big brother to their children, James and Alexis.
The experience of having their first billet was so positive, that the family has continued to billet players for the past 10 years, hosting a total of 10 players.
“It’s just fun having somebody in the house, and they’ve been good role models for the children,” says Heather. “They’re such good lads.”
She says the fact that they’re playing at this level means they have to work hard at the sport, often while balancing school work and, sometimes, part-time jobs.
“Shortly after Jordan arrived, we came to realize what a great influence he was on the kids, between daily hockey practice, studying at university, being involved in community events, as well as their two or three times a week hockey games; the boys are very busy and important role models.”
The Tulloch kids were six and four years old when Moore came to live with them. He made such an impression that they now attend all of the Crushers home games and Alexis began playing hockey at age six. She now wears his number on her Subway Selects jersey and she also plays defence, as he did.
Several of the billets helped to teach James and Alexis how to skate, because Heather says she and Kevin aren’t very good at it, and the players often go on the ice with the team Alexis plays on, to help the girls improve their game.
Kevin says that the two kids enjoy having a big brother around the house.
They continue to host players because “it’s just so much fun” and the family likes being involved with the community in this way. They feel that it’s important for the community to have the Crushers team here and they’re happy to offer this support.
Heather says because the players are older, they don’t need a lot of looking after. She says her main role is to make sure the players are fed properly, and after that her role is mostly as a support.
“Emotions were running high when it came time to say goodbye to someone who meant so much to us, but Jordan will forever be part of our family and when we visit P.E.I., we will always have somewhere to stay.”
McChesney says everybody billets for different reasons, but what it boils down to is that billet families become part of an organization that’s like an extended family.
For more information about billeting or to express an interest in billeting a Weeks Junior A Crushers player, contact billet co-ordinator Yvonne McChesney at 902-396-6097 or email email@example.com.