This past Independence Day, my friend Andy invited me to attend his family’s summer picnic in Yankton, South Dakota. It was a typical American, extended family, Fourth of July outdoor pot luck social affair.
Older matriarchs took over the food organizing chores, despite some weak protests from some of the young men. Older patriarchs gabbed about fishing and sports as they sipped ice tea or lemon-aide from tall tumblers. Younger adults and their unrelated friends engaged in gossip while keeping an eye on the kids. Yes kids, maybe forty or more of them.
A pair of five-year-olds begged Andy and me to play with a group of some of the younger children. We finally gave in, then excused ourselves from the older family members. The two kids led us to a large, grassy clearing where maybe a dozen children were scampering around.
Suddenly, one by one, the kids began screaming “not it”. After the children had all called out “not it”, Andy looked at me and yelled “not it”. With a smile, he said, “It looks like you’re it. We’re playing Freeze Tag.” I protested that I hadn’t been warned, and that I haven’t played Freeze Tag since my college days back in the 1970s. Regardless of that, I
didn’t even remember the rules of the game. The children were beside themselves with laughter.
One of the ten-year-old cousins took it upon himself to recap the rules for me. The kid who is “it” has to chase everybody else until you tag (touch) them. A kid who is tagged halts or “freezes” in place. The person who is it, must “freeze” all the players. The last kid tagged will be the next one who is it for the next round of the game. There’s a way to unfreeze a frozen player if you’re not it. Only, if you’re being chased by the player who is it, can you tap the shoulder of the frozen player to unfreeze her. The round of games is over when everybody gets tired or becomes bored with the game.
Just as the boy finished telling me the rules, the kids and Andy scattered to avoid being tagged by me. After several minutes of chasing I managed to freeze everybody. The last kid to be tagged was a 15-year-old high schooler. I was one of the first people to get tagged by him in the next round. Yes, I was thankful for the opportunity to rest.
I remember that regression into childhood as I think about today’s odd holiday, American Touch Tag Day.
I couldn’t find any reason that October 8th has been designated as the day Americans are supposed to commemorate tag games. I’m guessing that some education or teachers’ organization came up with the idea as a way to amuse their pupils. Why only American Touch Tag Day? I don’t know. The games are older than history and are enjoyed by kids everywhere on Earth.
Basic Touch Tag is probably the most informal, unstructured game in the world. You may remember playing it with your childhood friends, or you might still play it with your own children. There really are no rules. Basically, players try to “tag” other players with their hands. When a player is touched, she becomes “it”. She then chases other players and
tries to tag someone else, who then becomes “it”. There is no formal end of play. The game usually peters out when the kids become exhausted or tire of the game.
I remember playing something much more dangerous when I was an older boy. We called it “bike tag”, but it is more commonly known as “subdivision tag”. Bike tag is played in a similar unconstructed manner as regular touch tag. The difference is, that the players are on bicycles. The rider, who is it, must touch a part of another rider’s body to tag him. Young bicyclists use neighborhood streets as the venue for the game. As you probably understand, subdivision tag is quite hazardous. Whether or not we got hurt or wrecked our bikes, we may have gotten punished by your parents. The worst that happened to me, was a sprained ankle.
There are several other variants of the tag theme for kids and adults to play. There is the mild game of “Kick the Can” where tagged players stand in an imaginary “jail” until a player kicks a can into the jail, freeing all the tagged players. There is also the widely played game of ball tag, which incorporates some of the rules of dodge-ball.
There is a more fierce version of ball tag, called “Army Dodge-ball”. This is one of the most structured tag games. Two teams are chosen to play in a basketball court or empty parking lot. A line is made in the center. Each player attempts to hit a player of the other team with a dodge ball. The part of the body that is hit is “wounded”. The “wounded” player must move to the back of the playing area. One player from each team is designated as the “medic”. The medic “heals” the “wounded” player, who is then allowed back into the playing area to resume play. If a wounded” player happens to be hit before he is “healed”, that player is taken out of contention for the rest of the game. The game stops when there is only one unwounded player, not out. Some contests have been known to sometimes last for over an hour.
Also popular with many age groups, is flashlight tag. This is a short game of shining a light beam from a flashlight onto players, one at a time. The players cannot leave the light on, and sweep the playing field. They must aim their flashlight at a player then shine a beam onto the player to tag her. As in kick the can, there is a “jail” and some method of jail break.
A more sophisticated version of flashlight tag is Laser Tag. It has similar rules, but special scoring equipment can be used to keep track of scoring. There are also special goggles worn to protect the eyesight of players from stray laser flashes. Laser Tag is often played under the supervision of adults in controlled situations.
There are many other tag-like games that have become popular throughout the years. Maybe you can play one that fits your temperament today, on American Touch Tag Day.
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes to play Hug Tag. This is played much like regular touch tag, except that to be “safe”, pairs of players must hug each other just before the “it” player approaches them.