The Tag Game Played for Over 20 Years

They leap out of car trunks, break into one another’s homes, and go on wild chases. Ten school friends have played a single game of tag for more than two decades.

Dan Saelinger for Reader’s Digest


Last February, as Joseph “Beef ” Caferro was walking into a Seattle pub, he was accosted by an aggressive panhandler. Caferro, who is prone to sporting gold chains and wearing a yellow polyester leisure suit, did not take kindly to this. When the guy refused to back down, words were exchanged. The guy reached out to grab Caferro.

Caferro recoiled. The panhandler yelled, “You’re It!”

“Oh, @#$%!” Caferro said, laughing. The guy was Chris Ammann, a friend in disguise. Caferro shouldn’t have been so surprised. The next day, he used a similar tactic and went undercover as a woman to tag his friend Rick Bruya.

This, then, is the true story of how deceit, treachery, paranoia, and espionage have kept a group of now middle-aged friends together for more than 30 years.

Courtesy Mike Konesky

The Players

These aren’t just a bunch of overgrown kids running around shouting, “Tag! You’re It!” OK, maybe they are a bunch of overgrown kids running around shouting, “Tag! You’re It!” But they’re also successful professionals, businessmen, and spiritual leaders who have taken this childhood game to a whole other level by combining a Peter Pan–ish I’ll-never-grow-up mind-set with the money and wherewithal to pull off the ridiculous. Along the way, the guys have laughed, plotted, grown closer, and kept their inner child well nurtured.

They are: Bill Akers, health care executive; Chris Ammann, financial services professional; Rick Bruya, recreation coordinator; Joseph Caferro, aerospace engineer; Brian Dennehy, chief marketing officer; Mike Konesky, technology executive; Mark Mengert, machine-shop owner; Father Sean Raftis, Catholic priest; Patrick Schultheis, attorney; and Joe Tombari, high school teacher. All are 48, except Dennehy, who is 47.

In the Beginning …

In 1982, ten buddies at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane had an ongoing game of tag. All but one decided to end it on the final day of school. The holdout was junior Joe Tombari. He was It. At a Christmastime reunion in 1989, Tombari, tired of wearing the Yoke of Shame, as it would come to be known, convinced his pals to revive the game. They agreed that every February, whoever was It at 11:59 p.m. on February 28 or 29 would be It until the following February 1. Schultheis, then a first-year lawyer, wrote up a tag participation contract, which was signed by all. The contract specified the rules, including one disallowing tag-backs and another requiring a player to answer honestly when asked if he is It because the identity of a tagged player wouldn’t otherwise be revealed.

The Art of the Tag

The spirit of the game is documented on the website The tag is generally passed around no more than once if the guys are together, since an easy ambush is not considered worthy of advanced play. The Tagbrother style of play is more Jason Bourne than Dennis the Menace, but not much more. And the guys take this sentiment to heart. As you’ll see, there is no such thing as an out-of-bounds tag:

● Late one night, Konesky, channeling Bourne, broke into Dennehy’s garage, tiptoed into the darkened house, threw open the bedroom door, and turned on the light. Dennehy’s wife, realizing a hit was coming down, screamed, “Run, Brian!” But there was nowhere to run. Dennehy was It.

● Wanting to enjoy some quality time with his kids, Konesky bought tickets to the movie The Little Mermaid. As Konesky and his children entered the theater, he was immediately tagged by Tombari, who was waiting for him behind a door. How did Tombari find out where Konesky would be? He had an informant: Mrs. Konesky.

● During the funeral for Schultheis’s father, Caferro went to the altar to receive Communion. On the way, he laid a reassuring hand on his bereaved friend’s shoulder. As he continued past, he mouthed, “You’re It.”

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One thought on “The Tag Game Played for Over 20 Years

  1. Huh, I wouldn’t mind getting something like this going. Too bad I don’t know that many people to do it with.

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