ELM CREEK -- Showers, showers with warm water, that's what the Manitoba provincials mean to Churchill volleyball player Quinton Hart.
Beds, real beds with a mattress and bedding you don't bring from home, that's what the Manitoba provincials mean to Churchill volleyball player Wyatt Daley.
Food, hot food that someone else cooks, food you don't bring along from a northern grocery store, that's what the Manitoba provincials mean to Churchill volleyball player Kendall Spence.
And flying to Winnipeg and driving by van, not taking six days to travel for two days of volleyball matches while sleeping on school floors and eating cold groceries, that's part of what going to the Manitoba provincials mean to the Duke of Marlborough School Storm.
Above all, being part of this weekend's provincials means these guys are accepted as volleyball players and scholar-athletes, young teens who have serious game.
If you've ever grumbled about the traffic and construction delays getting your kid from St. Vital to The Maples, or whined about how faaaaarrrrr it is to Steinbach or Killarney, prepare to feel extremely ashamed.
Going into Thursday's opening matches of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association boys A-level provincials at Elm Creek School, the tiny Churchill school had competed in only eight matches over two weekends all year. You can't call it a season, because, as coach/K-12 phys ed teacher/high school geography teacher Tim Brock points out, "There is no season."
Not when the next closest school is nine and one-half hours away by train in Gillam.
The eight boys have practised three times a week since Labour Day, they've had one pickup game against adults from town, and they've played twice.
"It's just like, whatever," shrugged Quinton, the team's most accomplished vet who had one year of junior varsity in Thompson.
The first competition, four matches, was in late October, when six other schools came in to Churchill by train for the Polar Spike tournament. Duke of Marlborough took the visitors to see the polar bears.
Two weeks ago, both boys and girls travelled to the Zone 11 playoffs, the boys in Grand Rapids, the girls in Snow Lake.
Really, no, we're not making up any of what we're about to tell you.
Getting to the zones cost the boys and their families a total of $2,300, but that's for 933 kilometres each way. Yes, 1,866 kilometres round trip.
"Usually, we leave on a Tuesday, and come back on a Tuesday," because they live by the train timetable, Quinton said.
They took the train overnight to Gillam, stayed overnight, then a bus to Wabowden, the boys and girls split up, the boys going on to Grand Rapids, the girls to Snow Lake.
Two nights in Grand Rapids for the zones -- victory! -- two nights in Gillam to wait for the next train, and another overnight ride. Six days of travel, two days to play four matches.
Hotels, right? Restaurants? Lots of pizza?
Not a chance.
They spent four nights huddled in sleeping bags on classroom floors. They showered in tiny school change rooms with little or no hot water.
"It can be cold at times," said Wyatt.
Brock pointed out that Grand Rapids has no restaurants.
"There's really nowhere to eat, so we stopped in Thompson" on the way through to load up on groceries, said Wyatt.
On the Monday, said Quinton, they had to pack up and clean up and be out of the school by 8 a.m. They hung around the Gillam rec centre until 11 p.m. when the train came.
Gillam at least has one restaurant, but they pretty much sat around for two days awaiting the train.
"The biggest thing is the showers. Every other school you get cold showers, or water dripping from the showers," said Quinton.
The boys flew to Winnipeg at $1,300 a head. Hotel and food will be another $800, all through fundraising and parents' pockets.
They like to talk about the hotel.
"It's pretty nice," said Shaun Bell.
"We went to Garbonzo's (Wednesday), all you can eat wings -- I ate 32 wings," laughed Quinton, a very solid 6-2 middle.
A-level is the lowest population group in the MHSAA. The other nine teams have fewer than 100 boys and girls in grades 9 to 12, but they play full schedules, and some are close enough to urban centres that they can play club and attend post-secondary volleyball camps. Duke of Marlborough has 61 kids in Grades 9 to 12, roughly half of them boys. In their first match, Storm stayed with second-seeded Reston School, losing 25-16, 25-20. They play three matches today.
Other members of the team include Michael Whitmore, Alan-Michael Whitmore, Bryan Flett, and Aaron McDonald.
So why go through all this?
"We love the sport," said Wyatt.
Said player of the match Quinton Hart: they proved that "We play at that level of competition."