JoAnn Tadgerson is busy preparing another huge meal for her family at her home in Negaunee, Mich. “They’re all very complimentary towards food,” said Tadgerson, who has seen her family grow from three kids to six this year.
JoAnn and her husband, Jim, are billet parents for the Marquette Rangers, and among the additions to their family this year is Kent Daavettila, 18, who has come to the Upper Peninsula from Howell, Mich., to play for the NAHL team. The Tadgersons are one of several billet families in the Marquette area, housing out-of-town players for the Rangers during the season.
Leaving his family and moving 400 miles north to live with a new family - one that he had never met before - was something new for Kent, and he experienced a stage of awkwardness at first.
“I was kind of nervous about raiding the fridge, just normal everyday stuff like that,” Daavettila said. “But once you get used to being there and knowing it’s OK to be in the house and stuff it’s actually kind of nice. I really like living with my new family; we have a lot of fun together and they’ve treated us great since the first day we showed up.”
Luckily for Daavettila, there was an air of familiarity at the Tadgerson’s home as Rangers teammates Chad Pietila and Aaron Pietila are also housed by the Tadgersons. All three players are cousins.
“Having Aaron and Chad there played a huge part in me getting adjusted,” Daavettila said. “They showed me what I could do, what I couldn’t do and what the rules of the house were. Once I got comfortable it got to be real easy to be there. We all call her ‘Mom’ now.”
It also turns out that the adjustment between Howell and Marquette wasn’t as difficult as he may have thought. Daavettila is big on hunting and fishing, which is plentiful in the Marquette area.
“I have family from the U.P., so I was used to coming up here and I knew what the weather would be like once winter came, so I was pretty well prepared for that part of it,” he added.
Rangers spokesperson Mark Evans says the billet families are truly the backbone of their organization.
“Without the generosity of these people, we don’t survive,” he said. “These families who are willing to welcome our players into their homes are a special breed, and we try and instill in our young men that they’re very lucky to be in these homes. We’ve been very blessed that almost every billet-player relationship over the past three years has been a positive one for both parties.”
Although all three players are far from home, JoAnn Tadgerson said the Rangers players she houses lead fairly normal lives and have been good role models in her home.
“They go to our kids’ hockey games, they go hunting on our in-laws property, they’re always playing with the kids and watching Detroit Red Wings games together,” Tadgerson said. “They’ve made a real effort to be a part of the things we do as a family which has made for a real close bond.”
Daavettila can relate to the number of kids in the Tadgerson home, as he has five brothers and two sisters back home in Howell.
As an added bonus, JoAnn certainly appreciates all the extra help that comes from hosting three hockey players. From cleaning up around the house to chopping wood in the backyard, Daavettila and the others are always willing to lend a helping hand.
“I’ve never had a problem with my boys,” Tadgerson said. “They’re very respectful and they all have great senses of humor. They’re willing to do their share and are fun to have around.”
In many instances, billet families remain a part of the players’ lives even after their playing days are over. Many junior players have invited their former billet families to their college graduations and weddings and have kept close contact with them for many years after the housing arrangement was over. For many, it’s a lifelong relationship.
This is the Tadgerson’s second season hosting players as a billet family, and although she enjoys having the players around, she acknowledges that she’s been lucky so far in that she’s never lost a player.
“I’ve seen other kids have to leave their billet families because of trades or getting cut,” she said. “It’s tough because the kids and the families get very attached, so you just try to enjoy the time you have with them.”
Tadgerson also knows that, no matter what, one day “her boys” will be moving on.
“We know as housing parents that they’ll be leaving one day for good, you just hope you did well for them and that when they do move on it’s to an even better situation - in another league or on to college.”
Finding yourself in a new place far from home is something each and everyone faces at some point in their lives. For these Rangers players, the experience has been a memorable one. Both parties - the players and the billet families - will have had a lasting effect on each other by the end of the season. One they certainly can carry with them throughout their lives.