This 23-Year (And Counting) Game Of Tag Is The Greatest And Most Sophisticated Game Of Tag Ever

  • Dylan Murphy

You played tag, once upon a time. But your games probably lasted no more than 30 minutes, or at least until some teacher told you to come back inside to learn about addition. No game of tag in which you’ve participated lasted 23 years and counting, lacked geographic boundaries and recruited spies. Your game of tag didn’t tear the knee ligament of someone’s wife.

The Wall Street Journal did a profile of the game, which includes Bill Akers, Patrick Schultheis, Sean Raftis, Brian Dennehy, Joe Tombari, Chris Ammann and Mike Konesky, former high school classmates and friends from Spokane, Washington. The game of tag began during morning free periods. It had an old school flavor to it, just a bunch of kids chasing each other around campus like lunatics. The good stuff. But on the last day of high school, Tombari was “It” and didn’t want to be “It” for life. So he planned to tag another player who was home, except that other player was tipped off and promptly locked himself in his car. Tombari, was, officially, “It” for life.

Then eight years later, the friends were gathered on a weekend reminiscing about Tombari’s poor tag skills when the idea to revive the game surfaced. So then first-year law student Patrick Schultheis drafted a “Tag Participation Agreement” – a Collective Bargaining Agreement, if you will – which outlined the new rules.

1) The game was only active during February.
2) The player who was “It” at the end of February was “It” for the rest of the year.
3) No tagbacks. (Crucial, obviously.)
4) The game has no geographical boundaries.

So during the month of February, the “It” player flies around the country trying to tag someone – breaking into houses, hiding in bushes, devising elaborate plots of deception – while the other players collect spies and lock themselves away in hiding. And, as you can imagine, it has led to quite the handful of amazing tag stories.

Via the Wall Street Journal:

“One year early on when Mike Konesky was ‘It’ he got confirmation, after midnight, that people were home at the house where two other players lived. He pulled up to their place at around 2 a.m., sneaked into the garage and groped around in the dark for the house door. ‘It was open,’ he says. ‘I’m like, ‘Oh, man, I could get arrested.”

Mr. Konesky tiptoed toward Mr. Dennehy’s bedroom, burst through the door and flipped on the light. A bleary-eyed Mr. Dennehy looked up as his now-wife yelled ‘Run, Brian!’ Mr. Konesky recalls. ‘There was nowhere for Brian to run.'”

And injuries, too:

“One February day in the mid-1990s, Mr. Tombari and his wife, then living in California, got a knock on the door from a friend. ‘Hey, Joe, you’ve got to check this out. You wouldn’t believe what I just bought,’ he said, as he led the two out to his car.

What they didn’t know was Sean Raftis, who was “It,” had flown in from Seattle and was folded in the trunk of the Honda Accord. When the trunk was opened he leapt out and tagged Mr. Tombari, whose wife was so startled she fell backward off the curb and tore a ligament in her knee.

‘I still feel bad about it,’ says Father Raftis, who is now a priest in Montana. ‘But I got Joe.'”

But maybe the best part of it all is the February-induced paranoia:

“Mr. Schultheis once refused to help a colleague change his tire, fearing the guy had been recruited to help get him tagged. He sometimes goes to Hawaii in February, partly to lessen the chances of getting tagged.

Every February, Mr. Schultheis’s office manager provides security detail as well as administrative functions.

Mr. Tombari once tried to talk his way past her. ‘She knew it was tag time,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t allowed in. Nobody got in to see him.’

I need new friends.