- Associated Press - Saturday, February 14, 2015

UNIONTOWN, Pa. (AP) - “You don’t have to be family to be a family. You don’t have to be blood to have an impact.”

That’s one of the things Adrienne Day said she and her husband Bill have learned over the last six months with several new house guests, including Joey Sofo, 18, of Toledo, Ohio, and Reed Scahill, 19, of Point Huron, Michigan.

Since August, the Day family has been a billet family, hosting several young adult athletes on the Keystone Ice Miners hockey team. As per junior hockey league regulations, the young men ages 16 to 20 must be housed with a family that will provide nourishing meals and a safe place for the players to live.

Most of the players are from all over the U.S., some coming as far as California and Florida for an opportunity to be drafted to play and practice at The Ice Mine in Connellsville.

Sofo and Scahill are two of those dedicated players taking the next step to pursue hockey on a professional level.

“These guys have ambition. They have something they’re striving to do and they need someone to help them do that. If there’s any way that we can help them move forward in that endeavor, we’ll take it,” said Adrienne Day, a teacher at Uniontown Area High School.

She said this is the first time they have been a billet family. It was brought to their attention by one of Bill’s coworkers at Duke Energy, where he is a plant manager, and though they were initially apprehensive, they took to the idea of hosting several young athletes.

“We may not have known them, but we knew they had drive and passion. And for them to up and move out of their comfortable homes, away from their families, to pursue their passion - it’s inspiring,” she said.

The act of “billeting” comes from a military term. During wartime, families often “billeted” soldiers, offering them food and a place to live “while they were fighting the war that was basically on your front step. It’s a support for individuals who are misplaced,” according to Adrienne Day.

And while Sofo and Scahill are temporarily “misplaced” from their homes, they can safely call the Day home in Uniontown their refuge. Six days a week, they meet with the other players in Connellsville for workouts at the gym and extensive practice on the rink, all in preparation for upcoming games.

While the players may know their way around the ice rink, billeting with the Days has brought on a host of new challenges and learning experiences.

Coming from an athletic, always-on-the-move family, Sofo says his family has sit-down dinner only one or two times a year. Scahill said his family dynamic is similar. At Day family home, sit-down dinner is a regular occurrence.

“I was kind of shocked when I realized dinner is a time to talk about your day,” Sofo said with a laugh. “That was weird for me. But I have no complaints.”

The new “family” works together to prepare and enjoy the healthy dinners - but that also means they work together to clean up afterwards. Sofo admitted that he had never done dishes until he came to the Day house, which Adrienne attested to, laughing as she remembered the first time Sofo loaded the dishwasher with everything practically stacked on top of each other.

“I was nervous at first because I’m not a mother. I knew I wasn’t going to be their mom, but I wasn’t sure what the dynamic was going to be,” said Adrienne Day. “I wanted to make sure they had what they needed, but to also give them that independence that the coach wants them to have. I feel more like a big sister than a mother.”

“Or a crazy aunt,” Scahill added with a laugh.

Sofo and Scahill tackled their new obstacle of handling chores with minimal grumbling, according to Adrienne. And other rules, like an enforced curfew and respecting new family boundaries and policies were positively adopted.

“We deal with so many different situations every day, whether it’s in the locker room, the rink or at home. You learn to work on them. It’s good life education,” said Scahill.

Adjusting to life away from their families and hometowns was difficult for Sofo and Scahill in the beginning. Now, Sofo said they’re really making life-long friends and great memories. When they first arrived, everyone was on eggshells, Sofo said, but a trip to a Pittsburgh Pirates game broke the ice.

“That was our turning point,” said Sofo. “I also thoroughly enjoy every car ride with them. We bust out some tunes and try to break them out of their shells.”

“This has really been a chance for me to open up and be more trusting and engaged,” said Bill Day. “I’m typically a pretty solitary person, perfectly fine in my own little box. We never realized how boring our lives were before. Now, it’s a blast.”

Though there are plenty of laughs, Bill and Adrienne are also there during the injuries and illnesses. When Scahill was hit on the ice and had to be taken to the hospital, Adrienne said she had to have the difficult conversation with his mother.

“Those big, crushing hits on the ice are a lot more fun when you don’t know the guys,” said Bill Day. “When you walk in the locker room and they can’t breathe, it’s a little different. I go into full-on ‘dad mode.’”

Some of the athletes in the junior hockey league are still in high school, but many of them have graduated, like Sofo and Scahill. Because Sofo and Scahill are dedicated full-time to the hockey league, college isn’t in their game plan right now.

“I would be a sophomore right now. All of my friends from home are off at college and getting internships, going to parties and football games,” said Scahill.

“It’s one of the coolest decisions I’ve ever made,” said Sofo, who would be a freshman in college. “Hockey is taking me places I never would have thought I’d be able to go to.”

They both would like to pursue college after their careers in junior hockey, which they’ll age-out of when they turn 20. Though Scahill is unsure of what he wants to study, Sofo said he would like to go into architectural engineering - both, of course, continuing to play college-level hockey.

Because of the recent loss of ownership for the Keystone Ice Miners, their future on the team is unstable.

“Finding out about the ownership loss was disappointing and unnerving. It’s been such a good experience for us and we would like to see it continue,” said Bill Day. A statement from the North American Hockey League Board of Governors, Hat Trick Hockey, Inc., said they would finish out the season and continue into the playoffs if they make it in.

“If it doesn’t work out, we’ll have to find another team to go to, or find a college team,” said Scahill.

He said his situation has an added level of frustration because next year will be his final year in the league. “I don’t want to spend my age-out year trying to get redrafted.”

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Online:

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Information from: Herald-Standard, https://www.heraldstandard.com/


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