NEW YORK — It's a game for the ages. Ten people, thousands of miles and hundreds of paranoid thoughts about a single phrase: "Tag, you're it!"
A group of men started a game of tag in high school, but never let it end. The final bell of the final school day of their senior year in 1982 meant an eight-year hiatus, then a renewed effort to keep the game going.
The men, in their 40s and scattered around the country, told the Wall Street Journal the game was originally renewed out of pity: Joe Tombari, now a high school teacher in Spokane, failed to tag someone before the group of friends graduated.
"The whole thing was quite devastating," Tombari told the Journal. "I was 'It' for life."
When the group gathered eight years later for a reunion of sorts, the talk turned to giving Tombari a second chance. With members of the group living in cities around the nation, it would be difficult to do, though, so they came up with some rules: the person who was "it" could only tag someone else during the month of February. There could be no tag-backs, and the person who was "it" at the end of the month remained so for the next year. There can be no lying about who is "it."
Patrick Schultheis, a lawyer and participant in the game, drew up a four-page contract. One addition to the contract was a monetary requirement: Every year, each participant has to pay the current "it" $25, to be donated to the Gonzaga Preparatory School Alumni Association.
There are no restrictions to the geographic scope of the game, which has lead to some surprises for participants. Participant Brian Dennehy, chief marketing officer of Nordstrom Inc., was surprised when Mike Konesky snuck into his garage late one night and found his way to Dennehy's bedroom, tagging him before he could run.
The men told the Journal the game has helped keep their friendship strong over the years, as careers and families have taken them further away from one another. It makes them paranoid, too, though, as they tighten office security requirements or hide behind locked doors for one month out of every year.
Patrick Schultheis' office manager even becomes more of a security guard during the month of February, preventing Tombari from sneaking past at one point.
"She knew it was tag time," he said. "I wasn't allowed in. Nobody got in to see him."
It may seem childish to some, but the men don't care.
"If the trade-off is that I get to hang around with loyal, very funny guys, I'm pretty happy with that," Dennehy told the Toronto Star. "At the end of the day, some people don't have a sense of humor."
Top image: Bill Akers, Patrick Schultheis, Sean Raftis and Mike Konesky. Credit: Sean Raftis