By Carmen Dittoe – Silvertips Staff Writer
EVERETT, Wash. – Silvertips fans and followers have a constant flow of information and media coverage about their favorite players and coaches. In today’s entertainment age, it is not difficult to stay tuned in to what athletes are doing. However, there is one invaluable group behind the scenes that keeps the entire system on it’s feet—a group that is just fine with their lack of press time, because that is not what they are in the game for.
Billet parents: the people who help shape players into the young men they are becoming off the ice. Many people who do not have a first-hand look at the daily relationship between a player and their billet family might be under the impression that billets solely provide food and housing. In reality, they are the unsung heroes in the lives of players.
Janet Hawes, billet coordinator for the Silvertips, believes that being a billet is a type of mentoring position. From teaching time management and independent living skills such as cooking and doing laundry, to being an emotional support system in times of pressure—the billets are the ones responsible.
Former Silvertips defenseman Kevin Davis was fortunate enough to live with the same family for the duration of his career in Everett. He explained how much his billet family, Lee and Deb Steigerwald, guided him from the moment he entered the league as a 16-year-old to when he left at age 21.
“I honestly can’t thank them enough for all they did for me in the past five years. They are amazing people,” said Davis. “Not only have they impacted me as a hockey player, but more importantly they have positively impacted who I am as a person.”
Second year defenseman Kyle Walker said his first experience with billets in Everett was “a great fit from the very start.” His billet parents, Todd and Shelley Wylie (the real-life parents of a notable homegrown Tip), were there for him no matter what. Shelley, a nurse, continuously kept track of his needs when he was sick or injured. In fact, the help of the Wylie family even extended to car troubles.
“When the clutch burned out on my car, Todd paid for the new parts like I was his own kid. They knew someone who did repairs and had my car fixed in a week,” said Walker. “They are amazing and so supportive—I couldn’t have asked for better billets.”
Assisting with illness and car troubles is simply part of the everyday life of a billet. The interim parents provide daily guidance to the players in every aspect of life, from school to where they should get their hair cut.
Chris and Samantha Lamoureux have been billeting for the Silvertips on and off for a total of eight years; the first player they hosted was veteran defenseman Jeff Reiger (2006-09), and more recently they housed veteran captain Matt Fonteyne (2012-18) for the duration of his career in Everett. Chis explained that when they first began billeting, they expected to house a young player whose world revolved around hockey. They soon realized this would not be the case.
“The first thing that happened when [Jeff] arrived was that he needed help in his search to buy a car. Then came a girlfriend, school, grades, friends…it became apparent that these are just regular boys. The public builds them up to be rockstars, but in reality they are just teenage boys doing teenage boy things. They also happen to be good at hockey,” said Chris.
The couple bases their billet-parenting style off of the notion that, while the Silvertips being hosted may be successful hockey players, they are people first.
“You kind of lose track of who they are to the public because they become your child,” explained Samantha. “So you step up and be the same support system you are to your own kids. They have enough fans in this town—so I’ll treat them like a parent, because that’s one thing they don’t have here.”
When billeting, the whole family becomes invested—Lily Lamoureux, daughter of Chris and Samantha and billet sister to Fonteyne, said that in the last five years Matt has become part of her family.
“He moved in when I was pretty young, so we grew up together. It feels weird having family dinners without him now. Having Matt was like having a brother,” said Lily.
It takes a special heart to open life up to someone else’s child and love and invest in them as if they were one’s own, not knowing if a trade is near or if the player will be there for the entirety of their junior career.
Through scratched games, difficult losses, and heartbreak, billet families are the ones who carry the players through—ready to support and celebrate them when the career-highs and victories follow suit.
It is safe to say that the Silvertips franchise could not experience its successes without the active love, guidance, and investment that billet families provide.
Thank you, billets.