This story originally aired on October 8, 2016.
There are lots of games we all played in the schoolyard when we were kids — foursquare, tetherball, maybe some capture the flag if there was enough time before the bell rang. Some of us just can’t let go.
There’s a group of middle-aged men, here in the Northwest, who play an intense game of tag for the entire month of February, every year. They’ve been playing the game for decades.
The 10 players, who go by various nicknames such as Beef, The Bruiser, Joey T, Ake and Rafty; stalk each other at work, sporting events, restaurants.They break into each other's homes in the middle of the night to tag slumbering prey.They sneak into bathrooms while the unsuspecting victim taking a shower knows he’s been found when a hairy arm pulls the curtain aside. A tag even happened at a funeral.
The game these guys play involves planning, forming alliances, slight of hand and sometimes a little cross-dressing.
It all started when they were growing up in Spokane back in the early 1980s, going to the same Catholic High School, Gonzaga Prep. There was a 20-minute break during the school day when students were encouraged to go to mass. This group decided to use that time to play tag in the hallways.Then, one day, the game went off campus.
“I was home because I was already finished with finals and Joey T was it. So Joey T was going to drive up to my parents’ house during that 20-minute period. Well, somebody tipped me off,” said Patrick Shulthise, who goes by Paddy.
By the time Joey T got to the house, Paddy was hunkered down inside his mother’s car. Doors locked. Windows rolled up.
“I waited him out. He was there. He tried all the doors and he couldn’t get through. He wasn’t willing to break a car window and then that was the last we played. He was it, for life,” Paddy remembers.
They picked up the game again in 1989, after they’d all graduated from college and were launching their careers. Today, about half of the group lives in Spokane and half are in the Seattle area. One player, a Catholic priest, lives in Montana.
One of the players, Chris Ammann, says after a tag happens the parties involved usually grab a beer and catch up. All of these men are very close and would probably stay in touch just fine without tag, but the game is sort of like a little extra glue that keeps them connected.
“I watch my son and he doesn’t call his friends that often. It’s texting constantly. When Joe got me in the movie theater he stayed for the movie. We went out for some appetizers and drinks around the corner. So I spent three hours with Joe that night, that without the tag game wouldn’t have happened that night,” said Amman.
As the group gets older, Paddy wonders what will happen when they start to die.
“It will be really interesting to see if someone is it and he dies. Do you tag? Is a corpse? How does it work with that? Maybe the priest is the only one who can remove the tag? I’m not sure you can go to heaven if you’re it,” he said.
Pretty soon, you’ll be able to spend about two hours with these characters, fictionalized versions of them.Their story is being turned into a movie. Will Ferrell and Jack Black are attached to star in the film. It’s not clear yet if there will be a shower scene or hairy nuns armed with rulers.
The screenwriter, who as luck would have it, also grew up in Spokane and went to Gonzaga Prep. He didn’t cross paths with these jokers in the hallways. Needless to say, he has a lot of material to chose from.