As their return to the ice approaches, the South Muskoka Shield hockey team is looking for billet families to welcome players into their homes for the upcoming season.
The team is looking for about 20 more beds in the community to host players from outside Muskoka. This year, the team has players from Latvia, Slovakia and Sweden, among other countries and provinces. Their stay will start in mid-September and could last until the end of March, depending on the team’s playoff performance. Billet families need to be vaccinated, have an extra room for the players and have internet available so that team members can keep in touch with their families and friends back home. Billet families also receive $600 a month to cover food expenses.
“We like to go over and meet the families, of course, and have a meeting with them just to let them know what the team is all about because we have players coming from all over the world,” said Susan Reid, a former billet coordinator who continues to work with area teams to support their staff and players. “They have to respect the family’s rules. They have to respect the team rules.”
Players sign a contract agreeing to the team rules, which include a zero tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol. They must also abide by specific household rules, such as curfews, and are asked to help out with chores like doing the dishes, doing their own laundry and keeping their rooms clean.
The team’s billet coordinator and general manager are available to help if any problems arise, but the team’s owners have worked in the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League (GMHL) for many years and are experienced in how to run a team, Reid said.
Reid also has firsthand knowledge of billeting after hosting a number of hockey players in her own home over the years. She’s remained in contact with most of her past “billet sons,” sharing birthday and Christmas wishes as well as news about break-ups, marriages and babies. She even considers herself a Canadian grandparent to the daughter of a Russian player who stayed with her years ago.
“You become part of their family, it’s really a wonderful experience,” Reid said. “Even the kids from Canada, they don’t have any different customs, you’d think, but I’ll tell you there [are] differences from different provinces.”
The South Muskoka Shield team typically has about half of their players come from North America and half from Europe, Reid said, though the roster hasn’t been finalized yet. Whether the players come from overseas or from across Canada, billeting is a chance to make long-lasting connections while still supporting local.
“You get to learn their culture, and if you’re a hockey fan, any billet homes get to go to all the hockey games for free,” Reid said, adding that it’s a special experience to cheer on the players as their billet families. “When they score a goal, I can tell you right now that a billet parent is the person that’s standing up in their seat jumping up and down and screaming.”
To express interest in becoming a billet family, contact billet coordinator Jennifer Banks-Ringuette at email@example.com or 705-330-5885. For sponsorship opportunities, contact Jeff DeWetering at firstname.lastname@example.org or 705-787-7858.
Along with billet homes, the team is in need of volunteers to work the video camera, manage the game sheet and timeclock, control music and announcements, and take tickets at the door. Reach out to email@example.com or 705-646-7793 to volunteer.