May 26, 2013 in City

Clark: The game of tag that never ends

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photoBuy this photo

Mike Konesky has been playing a game of tag with his Gonzaga Prep classmates for the past 23 years. He is “it” this year and has to tag someone else next year. Their story appeared in the Wall Street Journal this year and has now been optioned for a movie.
(Full-size photo)

On the Web: Watch a video of one memorable tag filmed by ESPN at http://espn.go.

com/video/clip? id=9009960.

This is the tale of how 10 friends found fame and fortune from three little words …

“Tag – you’re IT!!!”

Okay, I’m maybe getting ahead of myself on the money angle.

For the record, Mike Konesky and his pals have yet to see any do-re-mi from their marathon tag game that has racked up 23 years and counting.

But suggesting that these middle-aged juvenile delinquents will be rewarded for their madness is a pretty safe bet.

Earlier this month, Hollywood was abuzz with news that megastar funnymen Will Ferrell and Jack Black have agreed to star in a tag movie based on the game Konesky and the others started while seniors at Gonzaga Prep.

All the ingredients for cinematic comedy gold are in place.

Over the years, taggers have gone to wacky lengths to pursue their prey. Players have jumped out of car trunks, snuck into bedrooms in the dark of night, donned wigs and other disguises, and jetted across the country and back again.

Patrick Schultheis was even tagged at his father’s funeral.

That’s what I call commitment.

“There are tons of tag stories,” Konesky, a 48-year-old manager for a tech company, says with a hearty laugh.

“That we’re still such close friends … it’s all a credit to the tag.”

It all began out of boredom, perhaps. The Prep seniors took to tagging each other with a slap on the arm or shoulder while entering and exiting classrooms or traipsing the halls.

Last one tagged at the end of day would be “it” until the following day, when the silliness would rev up all over again.

Then graduation arrived. Joe Tombari took the final tag and figured he’d be “it” for perpetuity.

Taggers toddled off to college, jobs, marriages and all the hullabaloo adults are supposed to engage in.

Tag? That was a dusty memory filed under “Things I Did Back in High School.”

Ah, but nostalgia is a most powerful drug.

Some eight years after graduation, a group of former players found themselves ensconced in a bar and reminiscing about the grand old days.

At some point, someone suggested a tag revival, which was enthusiastically seconded and endorsed by all.

Schultheis, proving the value of his law degree, drew up a contract to outline a few basic rules.

The game, for example, is only played during the month of February. Last tagged is “it” for the rest of the year.

A player must answer truthfully when asked if he is “it.”

Oh, and you can’t do a “tag-back” on the tagger who just tagged you.

That would be ridiculous.

And so with a wink and a nod, the game, as it’s said, was afoot.

And what a game it is.

Tag, as it turns out, is a diabolical endeavor when players are not limited by state borders and have a few bucks to burn.

Alliances form. Wives and co-workers act as spies. Scheming is encouraged. Skulduggery abounds.

Take what Konesky calls “the Michael Corleone Tag,” in honor of the first “Godfather” movie.

Here’s how it went down:

Tombari met Bill Akers for coffee.

Since it was February, the question naturally had to be asked.

“Are you it?”

Tombari’s denial couldn’t have sounded more sincere.

Akers, alas, didn’t know that Joe Caferro was cooling his heels all the while in the establishment’s can.

After a believable period of banter, Tombari excused himself to go water his wildebeest, say, and off he went to be tagged by Caferro a second after clearing the men’s room door.

Thus armed, Tombari wandered back to the table and …

There’s no need to spell it out, is there?

And so the February fun has continued, year after year, tag after tag after …

Until this year, that is, when the Wall Street Journal caught wind of it and published a front-page story in late January about 10 friends and tag.

Everything changed after that.

An ESPN film crew followed the taggers around during February, capturing the mayhem that ended on the final day of the month with Tombari nailing Konesky while he was attending a play.

Damn. Same thing happened to Lincoln.

All in their late 40s, the Tag Team is a diverse bunch that includes a marketing executive for Nordstrom, Brian Dennehy, and the Rev. Sean Raftis, a priest who tends to a flock in Montana.

Only four taggers still live in Spokane: 2013’s “it” guy, Konesky; Tombari, who teaches high school at his alma mater; machinist Mark Mengert and Akers, a health care executive.

With a movie in the works and more publicity sure to come, it’s easy to believe that this tag tale couldn’t get any sweeter.

Oh, yeah?

Call me a heathen, but nailing Raftis during a Mass strikes me as a holy crusade begging to be accomplished.

“We have thought about that one a lot,” confesses Konesky, who pauses a moment before asking, “Would that be a mortal sin?”

Maybe, Mike. But isn’t that what forgiveness is for?

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or dougc@spokesman.com.

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