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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A look at the ‘Tag Brothers’ of Spokane reveals deep friendships and elaborate schemes

Their friendship stretches back decades, and now it’s being immortalized on the big screen.

“Tag,” the new comedy starring Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Hannibal Buress and Jake Johnson officially opens in theaters today. The film is based on the real life tale of 10 Gonzaga Prep graduates – Mike Konesky, Joe Tombari, Bill Akers, Brian Dennehy, the Rev. Sean Raftis, Joey Caferro, Chris Ammann, Rick Bruya, Patrick Schultheis and Mark Mengert – who have for nearly 30 years been playing the same game of tag, a continuation of the game they played in the halls at school.

They refer to themselves as the Tag Brothers. As their lives expanded with marriage and children, as they moved around the country, two things remained the same: their deeply held friendship, and the knowledge that come February every year, chances are good an old pal will unexpectedly pop up and say, “Tag, you’re it.”

Their story went viral in 2013 after the Wall Street Journal wrote a story about their game and the elaborate steps the guys take to try to tag each other – and avoid being tagged. Wives and children often are recruited as accomplices. Costumes are donned. Plans for traveling far away are made.

“Tag,” directed by Jeff Tomsic and written by Rob McKittrick and Spokane native Mark Steilen, centers on five friends and their yearly game of tag, which they’ve been playing since elementary school. When one of the players, the guy who has never been tagged, announces he is getting married during the month the game is being played, his friends see their chance to get him.

Of course, he’s waiting for them, resulting in the movie’s most action-packed attempted taggings. But there’s also a lot of heart, too, as the film’s five tag players reaffirm their friendship.

Steilen, who graduated from Gonzaga Prep a few years before the Tag Brothers, is hopeful people will like the movie.

“The truth is, it’s funny. I think people are going to enjoy it,” said Steilen in Los Angeles last week before the movie’s premiere. “I’ve sat in with test audiences and it’s really, really exciting how much people are enjoying it. I just have the highest hopes.

“I think especially now, in this polarized world, to have a movie with no bad guys, about friends … people are responding in a positive way.”

So as the curtain rises on the movie today, we take a look at the original Tag Brothers:

Bill Akers

Age: 52

Occupation: senior vice president, Premera Blue Cross

City of residence: split between Edmonds and Spokane

When you were last it: 10 seconds ago … I am IT now.

Most memorable tag: The Zag Tag (Mark Mengert tagging Brian Dennehy while in the mascot outfit at the GU-BYU game on ESPN.)

Most elaborate defense strategy: Disappear, which is a mix of not talking to anyone, and when you do talk, never be honest about your plans or whereabouts. And leave the area if necessary.

Guy you most want to tag: The Rev. Sean Raftis

Which movie character are you most like: Not really any of them on the nose, but probably a little Ed Helms and a little Jon Hamm.

Favorite part of the whole Hollywood experience: Being with my boys and their families, and all of our friends. We feel truly blessed and fortunate to have this experience, and I hope our gratitude for the experience has shown through. It honestly is a wonderful group of people in so many ways. They are good friends, been there whenever needed, have never lost that sense of being 17 together, have ALWAYS been funny and uplifting. And I think they are that way for lots of people, not just me or for each other.

Chris Ammann

Age: 52

Occupation: chief operating officer, Perkins Coie Trust Co.

City of residence: Gig Harbor, Washington

When you were last it: Multiple times this past February, but never at the end of the month.

Most memorable tag: Involving me, maybe the G-Prep basketball overtime regional playoff game because my family was with me on the tag. I traveled from Seattle to Spokane on a Friday afternoon to take “it” to the East Side. While I was on the road, I was texting with a couple of Tag Brothers pretending that I was going to tag Mike (Konesky) in Seattle while he was at a hotel with his wife for Valentine’s Day, asking for details on where Mike was staying. I arrived in Spokane, received some intel from my wife’s uncle that Prep had a basketball game that night and headed over to the school for the game, figuring that Joey Tombari was working as a student monitor. I arrived at Prep, saw Joe in the crowd and found a hiding place nearby behind the band. With about a minute left in overtime there was a timeout so I worked my way across the corner of the court toward Joe, who was standing about four rows back in the student section. My wife and kids following behind me filming the tag. As Joe was talking to the students around him, I climbed into the bleachers and executed the tag, catching Joe by surprise. After the game, I met up with a large contingent of my wife’s family at a South Hill restaurant to celebrate.

Most elaborate defense strategy: Changing into disguises prior to leaving work and using the freight elevator.

Guy you most want to tag: Pat Schultheis at his office. Somehow I am going to make it happen.

Which movie character are you most like: Personally, I don’t think there is one character that I am most like. My wife likes to think it is Jon Hamm and my son, Will, thinks it is Hannibal Buress.

Favorite part of the whole Hollywood experience: There wasn’t any one event, it was great to have all 10 Tag Brothers together, which doesn’t happen very often and I loved being able to share the experience with my family – my wife, two sons, my brothers and especially my mom.

Rick Bruya

Age: 53

Occupation: recreation coordinator

City of residence: Auburn, Washington

When you were last it: February

Most memorable tag: I drove about 1,000 miles from California to Seattle to tag Joey Caferro, being that it was the last weekend of February and I had to do something. The other three tag bros in the area were locked down and knew I was it, so they were going to be difficult, if not impossible, to tag. I decided to drive up to Seattle because they would not be expecting to see me, at least I hoped. I was not sure of what I was going to do when I left California, but I had plenty of time to put together my plan on the 12-hour drive to Seattle. Joey was living in an apartment at the time with his wife, Laura. I figured that it was not going to be easy to tag him. So I decided I would make up a story to tell the apartment manager to get her to come with me to knock on the apartment door. Laura looked out and saw the apartment manager, while I stayed out of sight. When she opened the door, I pushed my way in and was running around looking for Joey. I found him in the back bedroom on the phone, doing a phone job interview. I opened the door and saw him there and tagged him. He didn’t have a chance.

Most elaborate defense strategy: Probably lock myself in the house or go out of town for a few days.

Guy you most want to tag: Mark Mengert

Which movie character are you most like: Sable (Hannibal Buress)

Favorite part of the whole Hollywood experience: Hanging out with all the Tag Brothers and their families.

Joey ‘Beef’ Caferro

Age: 53

Occupation: aerospace engineer

City of residence: Kirkland, Washington

When you were last it: this year on Feb. 25

Most memorable tag: I tagged Paddy (Patrick Schultheis) at his dad’s funeral. That one was the most meaningful. Old John would have loved the game played at his funeral and we honored him by doing so.

Most elaborate defense strategy: Paddy hired a limo driver to hold a sign saying “Schultheis” at the airport to divert Bruiser (Rick Bruya) from his real path of escape. Worked like a charm.

Guy you most want to tag: I’d have to say Paddy while he’s on an airplane on the last day of February. He likes to skip town so if I knew the flight I’d ambush him and there’d be nowhere to go unless he has a parachute.

Which movie character are you most like: Jake Johnson’s ‘Chilli.’ Chilli is a hedonistic conspiracy meathead like me.

Favorite part of the whole Hollywood experience: Reuniting with all the tag guys and their families at the after-parties. We had so many laughs my gut hurt the next day.

Brian Dennehy

Age: 52

Occupation: consultant

City of residence: Seattle

When you were last it: one year ago

Most memorable tag: Receiving end of the “Zag Tag” where Mark Mengert donned the Bulldog mascot costume and tagged me at a Gonzaga University basketball game.

Most elaborate defense strategy: travel

Guy you most want to tag: Father Sean

Which movie character are you most like: I can see a bit of each of us in every character.

Favorite part of the whole Hollywood experience: seeing my old friends

Mike Konesky

Age: 53

Occupation: IBM technology executive

City of residence: Spokane

When you were last it: Feb. 28

Most memorable tag: Wow. So many good memorable ones. I guess I would say tagging Father Sean Raftis at his Mass in front of his full congregation might be one of the most special – probably because it is really an act of friendship. I looked out and saw nothing but smiling faces, and Sean ended up working the theme of friendship into his sermon that day. A really cool day for the tag game.

Most elaborate defense strategy: I travel a lot for work so my most elaborate defense strategy is to be far away – even on another continent – from where the other guys might expect me to be. Recently I’ve been in both New York City and as far away as London near the end of the month of February.

Guy you most want to tag: Brian Dennehy. Mainly because he can be very elusive and tagging him is always a victory.

Which movie character are you most like: Really hard to say because there are aspects of each of them that are like me from time to time but if I had to pick one I think I’m probably most like Jeremy Renner. Not because I’ve never been tagged but because when the game is on I really like it to be high action – running, jumping, etc., to get away. Hannibal Buress is also very similar to me I think, too, with just his off-the-wall comments.

Favorite part of the whole Hollywood experience: Easy – seeing old friends and celebrating with all of our family and friends. We all showed up in Los Angeles and had to keep pinching ourselves that we were all there to support a major motion picture coming out that is based on us. Such a cool experience to share with family and friends from Spokane. So crazy that we ended up at TV studios to film with the cast, we all went to Renner’s house for dinner with the cast, the red carpet and actual premiere, and then all of the after parties. And at each event to look over and see your friends there too having a great time was just priceless.

Mark Mengert

Age: 53

Occupation: machinist

City of residence: Spokane

Last time you were it: 2015 or ’14

Most memorable tag: Dressed in a bulldog mascot costume and got Brian during a GU game.

Most elaborate defense strategy: Working a 16-hour day so it became March 1 before I opened a door.

Guy you most want to tag: Patrick. His work has security, his wife won’t help, and he taunts a lot.

Which movie character are you most like: Renner. He stayed in Spokane his whole life while others moved away.

Favorite part of the whole Hollywood experience: Seeing Father Sean Raftis. So grateful he fully recovered from surgeries. He brings a great presence to the group.

The Rev. Sean Raftis

Age: 52

Occupation: Catholic priest

City of residence: Columbia Falls, Montana

When you were last it: Two years ago

Most memorable tag: Mark Mengert as the Gonzaga University Bulldog mascot tag.

Most elaborate defense strategy: Be ready to crawl out of a window in my residence.

Guy you most want to tag: Patrick Schultheis.

Which movie character are you most like: Sable.

Favorite part of the whole Hollywood experience: Visiting with my Tag Brothers all together at one place and time, and seeing my, and their, family, relatives and friends. It was also wonderful to meet and make new friends like Jeff Tomsic, his parents and the great folks at Warner Bros. I would like to add that it was great to see Mark Steilen, our writer, in L.A. as he’s been a great source of friendship and support through this wonderful project.

Patrick Schultheis

Age: 53

Occupation: corporate attorney

City of residence: Kirkland, Washington

When you were last it: February

Most memorable tag: When I got tagged at my dad’s funeral.

Most elaborate defense strategy: On Feb. 27, 2013, I hired a town car driver at SeaTac to be a decoy in order to avoid an anticipated airport tag by the Bruiser (Rick Bruya). (My car was parked at the airport.). It cost me $100, but it worked – the Bruiser was waiting right next to the driver, and I avoided the tag. Totally worth it!

Guy you most want to tag: Mengert

Which movie character are you most like: Dave (the gym employee played by Thomas Middleditch)

Favorite part of the whole Hollywood experience: Having three days to hang out with the other nine Tag Brothers.

Joe Tombari

Age: 53

Occupation: math and science teacher at Gonzaga Preparatory School

City of residence: Spokane Valley

When you were last it: Many times in February

Most memorable tag: Tagging Beef (Joey C.) while he was at Mamma Mia’s restaurant on Francis. My daughter and I dressed up like an elderly couple and crept through the restaurant. We had wigs on and I had on a mustache. Joey C. did not know it was me until I was on him and tagged him.

Most elaborate defense strategy: I would lock myself in my work buildings at Sun Microsystems (Mountain View, California) while in early ’90s and Key Tronic in the mid- to late ’90s. The buildings at night were locked and required a badge to get in. I would hide out until midnight and the clock turned to March. One night at Key Tronic, I did not know there was a security guard at Key Tronic that late, Mengert saw my car outside and “sweet talks” the security guard to let him in. The dude escorts him to my office which was back in a small office with no escape route. I was sunk. Dang security guard!

Guy you most want to tag: I equally want to get everyone. Patrick is such a difficult tag at the end of the month because the people around him are a fortress. I want to break that wall and get in. Unfortunately, he would disown a sibling or fire an employee.

Which movie character are you most like: In the movie? Maybe Ed Helms. I like the disguises. Watching the Pink Panther movies was a favorite thing I did with my mom, and Abbott and Costello. The costumes were terrible on purpose. It added to the silliness of the situation.

Favorite part of the whole Hollywood experience: Prior to the premiere start, Jeff Tomsic, the director, thanked the Tag Brothers personally and called us up. That was really cool. Second favorite part was hearing Jeremy Renner describe the essence and the greatness of our game and friendship on “The Late Late Show with James Corden.”