For the Manitoba rugby community, the August long weekend is traditionally the most wonderful time of the year. Hundreds from at home and abroad descend upon Maple Grove Rugby Park for a semi-serious and very social rugby tournament called SNAFU.
SNAFU -- or Situation Normal All Fouled Up, if you want the G-rated version of the acronym -- is a three-day tournament in its 44th year. Run by the Winnipeg Saracens Rugby Football Club, SNAFU is the one time where all of Rugby Manitoba's 10 clubs shed their team colours and come together for a rip-roaring party.
Despite Maple Grove's relative seclusion in the south end of the city -- it's surrounded by forests, the Red River and the Trans-Canada Highway -- legends of SNAFU have leaked to the general public. Some of them are so far-fetched they couldn't possibly be true. I mean, a naked rugby game played at midnight once per year... seriously?
"I say to all my girlfriends at work, 'Oh, you should come! At midnight, people come -- I'm not advertising this at all -- take off their clothes and play some rugby!' And they're like, 'Do you?' " said Patti Fraser, laughing.
She admits she will do the sibling check -- if neither her brother, Colin, nor her sister, Kairsti, are playing, then she will strip down for the scrimmage, too.
With as many as 100 people running around in the buck, glowing little white dots on the horizon are as much as many will ever see from the clubhouse uphill.
"I'm not going to play, I'm only a spectator," said Brenna McNulty, a member of the Assassins Rugby Football Club. "I'm actually, like afraid of what's going to happen if I were to play naked rugby -- a finger could slip!"
Other specifics of SNAFU remain unconfirmed, like what exactly happens on the Friday night. Saracens club president Colin Fraser calls it "entertainment night" (with air quotes), but won't explain further. He said something about the first and second rules of his club...
During the day on Saturday and Sunday, anywhere from 150-250 men and women usually compete in games with seven per side and 15 per side (the numbers fluctuate constantly, depending on weather and whether people feel like playing). There used to be cash prizes for winners, but the prizes have been relegated to bragging rights.
Saracen Dave Wilson, 54, is going on his 35th SNAFU. When he served in the military for 24 years, taking various jobs in the air force, army and navy, he moved around a lot. But he always planned his holidays around August long so that he could come home to his family for SNAFU.
"It was important to my family; both my boys grew up at the park here. One's 25 now, one's 22. I played rugby my whole life and this is where they grew up playing. There used to actually be a play structure over there," Wilson motions to the sandy volleyball courts where Super Spikers now unwind.
As for the tournament's name, Wilson thinks SNAFU is very appropriate. But although the tournament has earned a rowdy reputation, its participants are extremely warm and inviting, said Wilson.
"There's always going to be a place for you at the park here, whether you're playing or coaching or lending a hand. There's a place for you and your family out here," said Wilson, who plans to lace up his cleats once again this weekend.
Long-time Assassin turned referee, Randy Dilk, might step onto the pitch too, if only to keep the players in line.
"I've been to 32 SNAFUS and it's been lots of fun, but there's stuff I can't tell you," Dilk said, laughing. "You get teams from out of town who come in and they go, 'This is what a tournament should be like.'"
Teams from as far as New Zealand, Argentina and England have come to SNAFU.
"There's no boundaries -- you're not a Wasp, you're not a Rowdie, you're not a Saracen," said Dilk. "I've been around a long time and been to a lot of tournaments in North America and this is my favourite."
The weekend's ephemeral highlight is the Sunday night social where teams get creative with their costume choices. Each team comes up with a costume theme -- which won't be revealed to other teams until the night of the event -- and shows up dressed akin. Past standout costumes have included grown men dressed as babies and women dressed as the minions from Despicable Me.
Nancy Aganze, a first-year Assassin, is still mentally preparing for his first SNAFU on the eve of the event.
"I'm just expecting a fun night with crazy stories... the stories I've heard have been way out there," Aganze said.
"I think about 50 per cent of it is true. I have to see for myself."