Tag, You’re It—Never Stop Playing

How one continuous game of tag has kept the friendship of 9 men going strong since high school.

In his first week as the new market chief for Nordstrom Inc. early this month Brian Dennehy had an important question for a coworker, “how hard is it for a nonemployee to enter the building?” This may seem like a strange, and even paranoid question, but Mr. Dennehy isn’t worried about corporate security, he just doesn’t want to be tagged “It.” You see, Mr. Dennehy and 9 of his high school buddies have been playing a game of “Tag” for the last 23 years. As the Wall Street Journal explains,

The game they play is fundamentally the same as the schoolyard version: One player is “It” until he tags someone else. But men in their 40s can’t easily chase each other around the playground, at least not without making people nervous, so this tag has a twist. There are no geographic restrictions and the game is live for the entire month of February. The last guy tagged stays “It” for the year.

This means the players can get tagged at work, in bed, at the gym, anywhere at all through the month of February. They form alliances with other players and fly all over the country to catch each other. Wives and colleagues are enlisted as spies, and assistants are told to bar other players from the office.

Joe Tombari, a high-school teacher in Spokane, who locks himself into his classroom during his off-periods and never fails to check under his car before getting within tagging distance says, “You’re like a deer or elk in hunting season.” He learned caution after one day in February, in the mid-1990s when a friend stopped by unannounced to show Joe and his wife his new car. What the couple didn’t know was that Sean Raftis, who was currently “It,” had flown in earlier from Seattle and was hiding in the trunk of the newly purchased Honda Accord. When Mr. Tombari’s friend popped the trunk Raftis leapt out tagging Mr. Tombari and startling his wife, who then 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.”

This was not the first time Mr. Tombari was “It” though. In fact, in 1982, on the last day of high school, he had planned to tag a friend who had left school early that day. However, the friend had been tipped off by another player, and had locked himself in his parents’ car. Having missed his target, and with no time left to tag anyone else, Mr. Tombari was “It” for life. “The whole thing was quite devastating,” he said.

It wasn’t until about 8 years later, when the group had gathered for a weekend reunion, when the discussion turned to that last day and the “feeble” finish to Mr. Tombari’s tag career. They decided then and there to revive the game for one month out of the year, and Patrick Schultheis, who was then a first-year lawyer, drew up the “Tag Participation Agreement.” The agreement “outlined the spirit of the game and the rules (no “tag-backs,” or tagging the player who just tagged you).” They all signed, and the game was on.

The years have spread the players across the country, which they say has curbed some of the action but has also served to raise the stakes. They also say that the game has played a large part of preserving friendships that otherwise may have fizzled over time. Although, more often than not, the idea of 11 months of ridicule overrides the feeling of brotherhood for the players.

Mr. Schultheis, for example, once refused to help a colleague change his tire for fear that the guy had been recruited to help him get tagged. And he has a habit of vacationing in Hawaii in February, partially to reduce the chances of getting tagged. His office manager even serves as a security detail along with her administrative functions during the tag month.

Mike Konesky, who is currently “It”, has had the last 11 months to plot. With the next round coming in just a few short days he has been tossing around a few different plans of attack. He explains that he prefers to go after the players who haven’t been “It” in a while. At the top of his list is Father Raftis, who has been more difficult to reach since his move to Montana but is, as several players pointed out, is a “sitting duck” on Sundays.

The priest says, “Once I step foot outside the rectory, all bets are off. I have to be a little more careful.”

Photo: TheOnlyAnla who is taking a break until her math t/Flickr

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About Kathryn DeHoyos

Kathryn DeHoyos currently resides on the outskirts of Austin, TX. She has 2 beautiful children, and is very happily un-married to her life partner DJ.

Comments

  1. It’s weird that this article is almost verbatim from the WSJ article. Paraphrashing is still plagiarism. No offense to Kathryn, but she shouldn’t be listed as the article’s author.

  2. Dear Aaron,
    Kathryn’s article was both insightful and humorous. This article completely changed my day around. I found it quite entertaining, and found myself thinking about good friends that I’ve lost touch with and ways to improve on those relationships. Kathryn is by far one of the most skilled and well versed authors I have ever had the pleasure to read. Reading Kathryn’s work is my guilty pleasure. Perhaps you should be more polite with your constructive criticism, and less of a pompous douche bag.

    Coby

    Post script,
    No offense

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