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Steel host families form lasting bonds

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CHIPPEWA FALLS (WQOW) - When Chippewa Steel players head to the Chippewa Valley to start their hockey careers, sometimes where they call home makes all the difference.

"When they walk through your door, you realize just how young they are," says Angella Niblett, who is a part of the Steel Billet Family program. "For a lot of the boys, they're leaving their homes for the first time. So I just really like to fill in the blanks as mom the best that I can."

"A place to stay needs to be more than just a place to lay their head," says Melisa Strong, Billet Coordinator for the Steel. "It needs to be a home away from home so they feel comfortable, they're getting the best nutrition for meals, the best rest. They can just relax and play their best hockey."

Host, or Billet, families open up their homes to players for a season. They provide support and necessities, though sometimes it's not an easy transition.

"I was a little nervous having a strange boy in our house, not knowing what's going on," says Billet Family participant Christopher Yeager. "But my wife talked to me about it and we took a chance. I'm really glad we did."

In the end, the players become like family.

"He joined in everything. Went to hockey practices, was involved in everything that the kids did," says Heidi Christopher, Billet participant. "We still keep in contact with him, his family and we are one big huge family."

"They will log on to Xbox with our boys and play video games with them which is fun," says Billet participant Kristen Haats. "A lot of them, when they come into town, or if we're out of town playing in hockey tournaments, they'll show up. It's just fantastic relationships."

And knowledge of their passion, is not a requirement.

"You don't have to know anything about hockey, you really don't," says Eric Strong, Billet Family participant. "It's about being there for the kids, for the young men that come here to do this. It's about providing them that opportunity. And if you ask -- all of them are more than happy to explain it to you."

The hockey club is looking for a few more host families.

More information on how to apply can be found here.

Rebecca Fiala

Rebecca Fiala joined the News 18 Sports Team in December 2018 as our weekend sports anchor and sports reporter.

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