September 11, 2001 will go down as one of the darkest days in American history. But for Janet and Bill Wilbert it was a day that blessed them with four beautiful children.
“[We say] some days good things happen, and some days bad things happen,” said Janet, who gave birth to the first child at 12:01 in the morning. “And [they] were the good thing that happened that day.”
Eight years later, quadruplets Alex, Drew, Katie and Eric don’t know much about the historical significance tied to their birthday, but they do know how much they love hockey, a sport that has become a family affair.
Inspired by their father Bill’s passion and involvement with hockey as an ama- teur player, the Wilbert children laced up their skates for the Peters Township Hockey Club developmental program of McMurray, Pa.
But not without some reservations.
“The first thing that always came up was the cost,” Bill said. “But when we decided to look at it, there were parents whose kids were already in the program, and they had all kinds of equipment. We literally had 75 percent of the equipment given to us.”
This season, all four Mite players joined a second team to make up one quarter of the Southpointe Rink Rats. They even brought their father along as head coach.
“It’s fun,” Bill said of coaching his children. “Sometimes you have that ‘don’t-listen-to-dad’ problem, but I have enough assistants that I can get one of them [to help]. At least you know where [your kids] are at, what they’re doing and how they’re doing.”
For Janet, who serves as the family’s equipment manager and constant cheerleader, it can be difficult being the only one on the outside of the rink.
“Alex caught a skate to the thigh yesterday, and Andrew hit the boards one time,” Janet said, “and you can’t go out there. … It’s nerve-wracking.”
Alex is the team’s only goaltender and the oldest of the Wilbert children – by six minutes. Nicknamed “Stonewall” by his teammates, Alex’s decision to be a goalie was an easy one.
“When we were playing [with the Peters Hockey Club], everyone got to try it … and I really liked it,” Alex said. “So I decided to be a goalie.”
In a family with kids of the same age, it can be like having built-in playmates. But for a family of hockey players, it’s like having a built-in hockey team.
“We’ve had marathon, 10-12 hour days in our back basement,” Bill said. “I went down one day and they had built boards [with storage boxes] all the way around the room so the puck wouldn’t get out.”
“And they found my blue paint tape and they put lines down,” Janet added, noting that friends and teammates come over and turn the basement into a hive of hockey activity.
Drew, Alex’s identical twin, plays center, occasionally on a line with his sister Katie. Though he’s had the opportunity to try other positions, he likes to take face-offs and loves to put the puck in the net.
“I like it best when I score,” he said, adding that he hopes to be an NHL player when he grows up.
Katie, who plays left wing and defense, is the only girl on the team, and insists that she’ll play with her brothers in the future.
“I keep telling her, ‘When you’re older you can play on a girls’ team if you want,’ ” Janet recalled.
“I want to play with the boys,” Katie replied, “Because girls don’t check.”
“She’s little, but she’s tough,” Janet added.
Tough as she is, Katie isn’t afraid to show off her feminine side with a pink cage on her helmet, pink gloves, laces, stick and tape.
Between school, home and hockey the quadruplets spend a large amount of their time together, but through hockey the Wilberts have made friends with other kids their age.
“I’ve seen other multiples that have all stayed together, and they don’t like to get outside of their own group,” Janet said. “But these guys … have really learned to make friends with other kids. They love their teammates. I think it’s helped them get more individualized, having other friends outside of their group.”
Along with hockey, Eric, the youngest, and his brothers and sister are involved with other sports like football, baseball, soccer and gymnastics. However, when push comes to shove, hockey takes precedence.
“They play all those other sports and sometimes you say ‘Well we have to go and play soccer.’ And they’ll be like, ‘Is it a game or practice?’ ” Janet said.
“And then you say, ‘hockey’ and they don’t care if it’s practice, skating, drills … they just love coming out.”
With four active kids, the Wilberts know they will be forced to continually make difficult choices when it comes to which sports dominate the daily schedule. With the family’s appetite for the ice, they know there will always be four Wilbert kids cruising around the rink.
“They’ve played some different things and we’ve had to really scale back. But with hockey there wasn’t a doubt,” Janet said. “They just really like it, so we’re hoping they can keep going with it.”