Rapps honored by organization for hosting players during season
Dean and Beth Rapp have three children, although sometimes it seems like five or six — even seven.
And they had 12 “super bowl” parties just over the past few months.
Confused? Well, the Rapps are what’s known as a billet family for the Youngstown Phantoms. They house players on the Youngstown-based hockey team during the season, treating them as close to family as they can.
Not many are better at it than the Rapps, who were named the initial Billet Family of the Year by the Phantoms.
Beth, a Canfield High School graduate now living in North Lima, wasn’t exactly sure what she and her family were getting into when they decided to be a host family last year. It started off a bit, well, awkwardly.
“When I first started doing this, I only wanted one player, and they talked me into two,” she said. “I ended up with three, sometimes four, but that was only temporary. When the first player came over, it was so awkward. We were nervous — to have a stranger come into your house and sleep in the next room to you, you’ve never met them before in your life — that was so awkward. But then after that initial time, I haven’t been nervous at all.”
Beth, her husband, Dean, and their daughters have all warmed up to the idea.
The Phantom players, whose ages range from 16 to 20, have fit in well. This year, they hosted Ben Schoen, 17, Yusaku Ando, 16, and Garrett Dahm, 19.
Two of the Rapp’s daughters are around the same age (Courtney, 17, Morgan, 15), and their oldest, Rachel, 24, already went through that phase.
Their experience raising a family, and the close age range, allowed for a quick acclimation to the home and led to some rather entertaining Monday nights.
“To start off with, the boys always feel welcome here, and a lot of times they’ll invite other players over,” Beth said. “The Bachelor (TV show) was a hoot this year because I think we had like half the team here every Monday night. You’d hear them hooting and hollering and clapping. It was crazy. …
“It was like a super bowl party every Monday night,” she added. “There are like 12 cars parked in the grass and everywhere. The boys like that. They can grow close. It’s a team-bonding thing.”
The Rapps are big fans of the team as well.
Beth and Dean are longtime hockey fans. They were attending Phantoms games years before they became a billet family. The added relationship with the players has created a much stronger bond between the two.
“With the relationship with the kids, you know who’s playing,” Dean said. “You have somebody to really root for. We’ve gotten to know, especially this season, more of the players. Every Monday night they would come here for The Bachelor, and there would be at least half of the team here, so we got to know a lot more of the kids.”
Their relationship goes beyond TV shows and hockey games.
Beth and Dean are basically the surrogate parents during the players’ stay. They cook dinner for them, do their laundry, provide snacks and have other players over for dinner. They’ll take them to practice if they can’t drive and do their best to care for them if they’re sick or injured. Beth even gave them baked goodies for the long bus trips to away games.
They care about they players’ successes as well. Beth said she often sends them motivational texts and does her best to keep them upbeat if they suffered a loss or had a bad game.
“The Rapp family continually goes above and beyond for our players and organization,” said the Phantoms organization in a statement announcing the award. “They are truly in this for the right reasons and care for our players as if they are their own. We are extremely blessed to have the Rapp family as part of the fabric of our hockey team and organization. This recognition is very well deserved!”
The Rapps called the relationship “a two-way street” and admitted the boys and the Phantoms organization have made life easy on them — for the most part.
As part of the United State Hockey League, players can be traded or simply not be cut out for the league. Beth said one player only lasted a month before going back to his home state, and other players move here from other countries (Ando is from Japan, and a former player was from Denmark), which can lead to a language barrier.
Still, both sides have been able to make things work. As much as the Rapps treat the players like family, they return the favor and attend family events. Courtney and Morgan are involved in drama, for instance, and a few players attended a play of theirs.
They, um, just weren’t exactly up to speed on play etiquette.
“It’s a small community theatre, and what do they walk in with? McDonald’s,” Beth lamented. “The director was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, you can’t eat that here.’ So they got in trouble, and they had to — we said they went to the penalty box — to eat their food outside, and then they could come in. I was so mad at them and embarrassed. But it was just because they’re used to sporting events where you can eat. You can’t do that with plays.”
Unfortunately, the Phantoms’ season was cut short because of the COVID-19 outbreak, and all three players left in early March instead of their normal May departure. It was a tough ending for the players and the Rapps.
“We didn’t get that formal goodbye” Beth said. “They all left at separate times. We didn’t get a picture together. I’m kind of upset about all of that. … It all ended so abruptly.”
It was one of the few negatives in an otherwise great relationship.