If you’re a fan of the sport, you probably know that the Mahoning Valley Phantoms hockey team is comprised of some of the best young talent in the country.
Ever wonder where in the Valley all this young talent lives while they pursue their careers away from home during the nine-month-long hockey season? The answer is with local billet families.
“We have nothing but a positive experience with the boys, and have made lifelong friendships with them,” said Pauline Ervin, the housing mother of Scott Moser and Jordan Sims. “Both Scott and Jordan have been positive influences on our children and have really stepped up to take on the big brother roles.”
Families from around the Boardman area have volunteered to invite these young men, some from as far away as Alaska, into their homes and provide them with room and board.
The players' ages range from 16 to 20, and they come to play in the North American Hockey League - one of the premier Junior A hockey leagues on the continent - with the hope of being recruited and offered a college hockey scholarship.
In the last five seasons, over 45 Phantoms players have received NCAA Division I hockey scholarships. Each player is screened by the NAHL and the Phantoms organization before making the team.
“Having never been exposed to hockey, and often feeling like I didn't have enough time for my own kids, I was very apprehensive about assuming the responsibility of being a housing parent,” said Rhonda Roarty, the housing mother of Grant Blakey. “But my husband and (Phantoms) coach (Bob) Mainhardt convinced me that it would be a rewarding experience and wow, were they right!”
“This opportunity has brought into my life a wonderful young man in Grant and his family,” she added. “We have also had the pleasure of getting to know many of the other players. They are collectively the most mature, gracious and respectful young men I have ever met.”
More than just an extended-stay hotel, families find the experience of housing a player very rewarding, forming lifelong bonds with the players.
“Whether they were helping with homework, playing games, watching TV, or accompanying my daughter to the Father/Daughter Night at school when her dad was out of town, it has really made them part of our family,” said Connie Black, the housing mother of Derek Graham and Chad Boeckman.
“These young men are great role models and an inspiration to my own children and the children in the community, and we are thankful to have had them in our lives.”
There are very few requirements for housing a player. The Phantoms ask only that you provide a separate bedroom and daily meals for the player. Housing families then receive compensation of $250 per month, per player, for grocery expenses. Players provide their own vehicles and cell phones.
The team has a strict set of rules that the players adhere to, and maintains a very strict curfew. In compliance with league rules, all billet families must pass a criminal background check.
Players arrive in Boardman in mid-August and stay through the end of the regular season at the end of March. If the Phantoms qualify for the playoffs, like they have the past four seasons, their stay could possibly extend into the second weekend of May.
“The only bad part of being a billet is that they eventually will leave… hopefully with scholarships in hand,” says Black.
“We really look for strong character kids to come in, because that is what ends up transpiring into good hockey players,” said Mainhardt. “We’ve been very fortunate and lucky to have a tremendous group of housing families. But we’re always looking and we’re always in need of good families that would be interested in having a part in these young men’s future.”
“I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to learn the game of hockey, to meet the housing families and their players, as well as getting to know the Mainhardt family,” said Roarty. “Would I do this again? Absolutely!”