Family match vital in billeting Knights

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:02 AM ET

Not everyone has what it takes to be a billet family for an OHL team.

The London Knights receive many requests each year. It's assistant general manager Jim McKellar's job to fit players with families.

"A good billet is somebody that cares about them, like he's their own son," McKellar says of the first requirement.

"It's not so much the hockey. These kids need comforting at times, like they would at home, and they just need a caring family environment.

"A good billet is somebody who cares about the young man and not necessarily the hockey player. That helps them with the pressure.

"We have a good group of billets who provide them with a caring home and a home away from the spotlight."

The Knights receive inquiries from prospective billets each year.

"We do extensive interviews, run background checks and ask for references," McKellar says of "taking the necessary measures to ensure the safety of the players."

When the Knights draft a player, McKellar makes it a priority to meet the player and his parents as soon as he can so the billeting and school process can begin.

"We want the parents to be very comfortable once they're drafted by the London Knights," he says.

"Once they're drafted, we try to bring them down within the first couple of weeks and set them up with their billets."

McKellar interviews the player and his parents, then tries to match those personalities with a billet family as quickly as possible.

"This way they can use the summer to get to know each other."

"The two families can go for dinner, the moms and dads can talk on the phone, so by the time they come up for training camp, it's not, 'Hey, you're going to live there and you're going to like it.' We want it to be a comfortable situation."

Matches are important.

"We typically try to match them to families similar to home. We ask a lot of questions," McKellar says.

The interview process is important.

"We interview the kid and find out what he's about and what his life is like, and we've had pretty good success with the matches," McKellar says.

"You have to remember, you're dealing with 16- and 17-year-old kids who are going to move away from home for the first time. . . . The only thing they know is their mom and dad."

It's not always the player that McKellar worries about. "A lot of the talks I have are with the mom and dad, comforting them and letting them know we're going to provide a similar environment as best we can here for their young man to get his education, to enjoy hockey and have a good time in our community."

And just like at home, there are rules, such as curfews and respecting the home. "There's steady communication with the billets," McKellar says.

"The players live by rules within the family, and we want them to be respectful of the home and to treat them like they treat their parents.

"Their billet moms and dads are a big part of their life and they deserve that respect. Those are pretty basic rules."

McKellar says it's not a fool-proof process. Sometimes the matchup doesn't work.

"We've rejected a billet or we've had to take a player out, but it's very rare," he says.

"There are personality conflicts and sometimes they just don't mesh. There are small things that aren't just quite right. It can be both parties.

"Sometimes a player can be a touch difficult for the family, and I don't like the days we have to move somebody.

"But we've had good success. And the more time you put into it, the better product you're going to get out of it at the end."


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