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.

Lance Contrucci from Reader's Digest Magazine

Dan Saelinger for Reader’s Digest

Tag Teams

The guys often work together, and on occasion an innocent bystander becomes a victim. Once, when Raftis was It, he and Konesky conspired to tag Tombari. They drove to his home, and Konesky persuaded Tombari and his wife, JoAnne, to come outside to see Konesky’s new golf clubs. When Konesky opened the trunk of his car, Raftis sprung out. Recalling the look on JoAnne’s face, Raftis said, “It must be unsettling to see a human hand coming out of a trunk.” In fact, JoAnne was so startled that she backed up to a curb and fell, tearing her ACL, which left her husband with a tough decision: “Run from the tag and hide out somewhere, or stay and help my wife.” Fortunately for JoAnne, it wasn’t the end of the month, so there would be plenty of time for Tombari to tag someone else.

Wily Vets Are Tough

You don’t play tag for 31 years without picking up a trick or two. One day, Bruya found out when Schultheis was due to arrive on a flight to Seattle from Arizona and headed to the airport. At the terminal, Bruya spotted a chauffeur holding up a sign with Schultheis’s name on it. Bruya waited nearby, his tag hand itching to go to work. But the sign was a diversion. Schultheis had suspected something might be up, so he hired the driver to lure Bruya, snuck out through 
another terminal, jumped into his car, and drove home.

Paranoia Runs Deep

Trash can

Dan Saelinger for Reader’s Digest

For 11 months out of the year, life in Washington State, where most of the players live, is pretty staid, as the guys devote much of their time and energy to their families and jobs. But come February 1, all hell breaks loose. Then the friends live like fugitives, peer out windows, alter routines, and put office security guards and staff on high alert. Even marriages are strained. Ammann was furious with his wife one February 28 after she posted on Facebook that they were home—he had been texting everyone that he was holed up in a remote hotel. Why all the anxiety? Because duplicity is an integral part of the game, and no one knows when or from where the next tag is coming.

Remember that you-must-admit-you’re-It contract rule? It can’t always be trusted. One time, Konesky and Tombari, roommates in San Jose, California, were in their kitchen together before leaving for work. Something made Tombari ask Konesky if he was It. Konesky replied, honestly, that he wasn’t. They agreed to meet for lunch later that day. Seeing a good opportunity to trick Tombari, Konesky hopped a flight to Los Angeles and met Caferro, who was It, at the airport. Caferro tagged Konesky, who returned immediately to San Jose. Then he met Tombari for lunch and tagged him.

Believe it or not, this tactic has a name: the Michael Corleone Tag. Its genesis: the scene in The Godfather when the young Corleone is patted down to show a corrupt police officer that he’s not carrying a gun, only to knock off the cop in a restaurant with a pistol that had been hidden in the men’s room earlier.

Variations on a Theme

Of course, this move is not to be confused with the Lone Gunman Michael Corleone Tag. A few years ago, Akers met Raftis for lunch. It was a somber, soul-searching occasion—Raftis was debating whether or not to become a priest. Mengert was also invited but couldn’t make it. Or so he said. Akers went to the bathroom at one point and was shocked to be tagged by Mengert. “He was waiting for one of us—he didn’t care which one,” remembered Akers.

If Raftis was looking for a sign, he might have found one: Akers returned to the table and patted his friend on the shoulder benevolently. “You’re It,” he said.

Raftis is now a priest in Townsend, Montana. He loves the calling, but he has mixed feelings about the location. “There are lots of hiding places in Montana,” he recently said. “On the other hand, if I should get tagged the last day of the month, Spokane is a seven-hour drive, and it would be in lockdown.”

Dan Saelinger for Reader's Digest
Dan Saelinger for Reader's Digest

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