Constantly looking over your shoulder, glancing under your car to see if there’s a body under there feels, as one person said, “like you’re in a Cold War epic.” Except, it’s much more benign than that — it’s an extreme, month-long game of tag that a group of men have been playing for the past 23 years.
The tag among the 10 men, now in their 40s living in the Pacific Northwest according to ESPN, started when they attended Gonzaga Preparatory School. It was resurrected when they graduated as a way to keep in touch. It even has a formal “tag participation agreement.”
There are three rules added into the agreement to the traditional play of tag, according to Patrick “Patty” Schultheis.
- The game will only take place during the month of February.
- There are no tag backs (retagging the person who just tagged you).
- If you are asked if you’re it, you have to answer truthfully.
When you view the list of the professional jobs the competitors hold, it might be surprising to you that they maintain their young-at-heart attitude and continue to play the game. There’s a teacher at Gonzaga Prep, a tech executive, an aerospace engineer and even a Catholic priest.
“He is definitely exposed on Sundays,” one of the men said. Another called him a sitting duck. But all wonder if someone would really run up onto the altar while he was saying mass to tag him.
One of them says “maybe. I got tagged during my dad’s funeral mass.”
Just how intense does it get? There are costumes involved, like a “Village People” construction worker and another was a homeless guy. ”Joey T,” Joe Tombari, at one point in the video report is “coiled like a rattlesnake” in the trunk of Schultheis’s car ready to “fire out at him as soon as that trunk opens.”
ESPN’s video report has one of the players saying he thinks his target hurt his back while trying to evade the tag. “But it was worth it,” he said.
The Wall Street Journal profiled the bunch before the 2013 game began, reporting that alliances are formed and the wives even get recruited as spies (and are sometimes collateral damage):
“You’re like a deer or elk in hunting season,” says Joe Tombari, a high-school teacher in Spokane, who sometimes locks the door of his classroom during off-periods and checks under his car before he gets near it.
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.”
The last week of the month is so intense as no one wants to be left tagged — one guy traveled 300 miles to nab a target.
“You absolutely do not want to be it for 11 months. That is a huge yoke of shame,” Mike Konesky said.
Again, these guys are in their 40s. So how long are they thinking this sometimes cross-state and often physical game will continue?
Joey “Beef” Caferro said he expects to be chasing people down the hall in a wheel chair.
“I give credit to the game for letting me stay in touch with people whose friendships I cherish,” Konesky said.
Watch ESPN’s report:
Read more about the game in the Wall Street Journal’s profile here.
This story has been updated to correct a couple typos.