Brian and Stephanie Wynn, long-time residents of Whitecourt, have just recently finished up their first hockey season as billet parents for the Whitecourt Wolverines. They invited me into their home for a cup of tea and a chat about what their first year experiences were.
I received a nervous welcome from Stephanie when I knocked on the door. They were told I was coming but they weren’t sure if we were just talking or if I was videotaping them, once I reassured her that I didn’t have a video camera in tow, I heard a sigh of relief and I received an immediate offer of tea and chit chat. We had to wait for Stephanie’s husband to come home but the chatter came easy and I soon had a hot cup of tea in front of me.
During the first few minutes of being in their home I felt a warm and welcome reception and I realized that this must have been how Jaedon Leslie and Dawson Bruneski felt the first time they came up the stairs into the kitchen. A little nervous, a little unsure but immediately welcomed. After a bit more chatter and some laughs, Brian walked in the door and we all sat down at the table to get down to business.
Stephanie was able to tell me the exact moment that she realized she’d like to become a billet parent. Mrs. Wynn is a teacher at Hilltop High School in Whitecourt and she said she had two Wolverine players in her class that missed a lot of school because of hockey. She said that even though these players missed school, they’d come in during lunch, before and after school and during spare time. She noticed that they were receiving good marks and worked extremely hard for those marks despite the amount of school they missed. One day during lunch hour, the players were in her classroom and she asked one of them what they look for in a billet family and the player (Gordie Ballhorn) is quoted by Stephanie as saying, “We just want to be part of the family”. That was good enough for Stephanie, she went home that night and talked to her husband Brian about taking in some hockey players for the next season. Stephanie broke it down into one powerful statement, saying “I didn’t have any expectations but they were hard workers and that impressed me”.
Our conversation bounced back and forth between the players and the team as a whole but one thing I noted throughout the length of my visit was that the Wynn’s didn’t have one negative experience to share. I encouraged them to talk about their fears of having the players in their home and Stephanie says that she was concerned about them missing curfew or throwing a party when the Wynn’s weren’t home but she says that her fears soon vanished. Her billet sons, Jaedon and Dawson, were very respectful and assured her that they would never treat the Wynn’s or their home in a negative manner. We talked about trades also being a fear but that they said that the hockey team is a business and player trades are always a possibility. Brian mentioned that even though they were both aware that it’s a business, Stephanie would be sad if a player was moved on.
We reminisced about some of the players that moved on this past season and the conversation turned to the Wolverines organization and what they learnt about the program throughout the season. Stephanie started off by saying that she was surprised by how strict the program is with the players and she appreciated that very much, noting that it took the pressure off of her and Brian as parents to make some of those decisions. They talked about their nerves being calmed when they had a billet parent meeting. In the meeting, the Wolverines organization set out rules regarding the players. Rules such as curfew, being respectful and even down to things such as making their beds. They were also encouraged to sit down and discuss house rules with their billets and the Wynn’s say that knowing all of that information and knowing that the team had rules, regulations and policies already set in place was calming to them.
They also talked about how busy the players are kept, how structured their time was and how little downtime they have. “They’re busy and they’re tired”, Stephanie said, “they don’t have time to get in trouble and if they did, they’d be in way more trouble with the team then they would with us.”
Billet parents get to know their billets on a different level then the community, the staff and even the coaches. Because of this, I asked them what they would tell people about Wolverines players that we wouldn’t already know. Stephanie started off by explaining that the players are all teenage boys but because of their chosen career path in hockey, they have to grow up, act and behave at a much more mature level than their peers. She goes on to explain that the players are on high alert to show respect and behave in a manner that represents the hockey club in a positive manner within the community. Brian adds that even though the players aren’t from Whitecourt, they quickly embrace the community as their own and become great ambassadors for Whitecourt. When the players are in Whitecourt and visiting other community’s they are representing Whitecourt. Stephanie equates it to being in a fishbowl and knowing that they can be judged at any time. The players, she says, are aware of their role in the community and adapt well but we should not forget their true age.
Ending with my last swallow of tea, I asked the Wynn’s what they felt the Community would lose if the team were no longer here. Stephanie tells me that she wasn’t a hockey fan before those two boys were in her class last year. They asked her to come to a game and she said she was hooked from the first puck drop. Stephanie says that the community would lose that valuable piece of winter entertainment the Wolverines provide. She told me that she doesn’t enjoy the fighting though and that she and billet son, Dawson Bruneski, have had many chats about hockey fights.
Brian talked about the community losing mentors, role models and community ambassadors for Whitecourt and about the benefit the Wolverines provide to minor hockey. The Wynn’s other billet son, Jaedon Leslie, became a fan favorite in his rookie season with the Wolverines. That alone shows us the impact that one player can have on a whole community in a few short months.
The Wynn’s overall billet parenting experience in their first year has been an extremely positive one. They are excited for the players to return to Whitecourt and Stephanie made mention of some desserts that she enjoys baking for the boys. I’m sure both Dawson and Jaedon would agree that the Wynn’s have a lot to offer as billet parents. From our meeting, I know the Wynn’s are firm believers that the Wolverines organization and players are an asset to Whitecourt.
The Wolverines know that billet parents are key to our organization and they have a lot of wise and important information to share with us. Stay tuned for our next billet parent interview with Rena and Kerry Lalonde as they talk about being with the program from day 1 and how they’ve gained family members, friends and sons.