In France, they call it the wolf game or “jeu du loup.” In Romania, it is “leapsa.” At Blair, it has been called many things over the last decade: Jaws, the Fifteen, the Thinning. Each year, Blair’s Senior Class Council (SCC) changes the name, but the tournament is the same: a sprawling game of tag that lasts for weeks in which Blair’s students and teachers crouch behind bushes and hurdle across fields in an attempt to “tag” another player. The final showdown in the Bowl, featuring those who have evaded tagging the longest, becomes a high-spirited battle royal of dodging, ducking and sprinting in which contestants often pull every trick in the book in their quest to be crowned champion.
Started at Blair by student Jack Januszewski ’13 almost a decade ago, the children’s game has become something of a beloved new tradition on the hilltop because it nearly always ends with laughter and shouting as players and observers alike have a good time.
Each year, Blair’s Senior Class Council runs the tournament, tweaking the rules to ensure fair and safe play for all. Some rules remain consistent: The game is open to willing participants, anyone may opt out at any time, rough play is prohibited, and tagging cannot occur during study hall, athletic practice or class time.
“Over the years,” SCC faculty advisor Andee Ryerson says, “the rules have become longer as students have become more creative.” This year, for example, students are prohibited from seeking other players’ schedules in the academic office; COVID masks cannot be combined with additional masks, thus concealing players’ faces and shielding identities.
Some Advice for the Hopeful
As one of Blair’s English, religion and philosophy teachers, David Mamukelashvili is known by his students as the type of person who likes a deep discussion. He’s been known to quote Aristotle in casual conversation. With his proclivity for measured reflection, and the fact that he towers over most people, one might assume that Mr. Mamukelashvili makes an easy target in tag or that he is disinclined to embrace the simple game. Nothing could be further from the truth. Considered by some students to be a “legend” in the game for his ability to make it to the finale, Mr. Mamukelashvili believes there are many tactics and strategies to aid one’s advancement in the game. Incidentally, he also has strong opinions about the dangers of falling victim to “treachery” during play. In the name of entertainment and intrigue, Mr. Mamukelashvili offers the following advice to this year’s newcomers:
1. You will probably get tagged when you expect it the most, so you should expect it equally at all times.
2. Remember: There’s always a way out.
3. Time can be your ally and your biggest enemy—plan your days ahead and understand how much of it you waste.
4. Patience was never a virtue, but it is in this game.
5. Do what it takes if you’re serious about it and don’t look back.
6. Overestimate every opponent.
“Most importantly,” he warns, “do not trust any of the wrestlers. They are all amazing, but not during these weeks; no matter what, they will always outnumber you.”
Let the Games Begin
While many cultural vestiges fall by the wayside with time, the game of tag has survived millenia. Documented in the second century by Greek scholar Julius Pollux, the game continues to exist today in various forms of the original across the globe. As with all traditions, those that survive the test of time reveal something about its adherents; the traditions survive because they aid, in some way, the culture to which they belong. In Blair’s case, Ms. Ryerson says, the SCC continues to organize the game because “It is simply fun. In the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of studying, in the middle of some of the shortest and coldest days on campus, students really enjoy having an outlet, just for a few weeks, that is so simple and fun.”
Today’s School Meeting marked the beginning of play for this year’s tournament, and SCC members announced that this year’s edition would be called “The Game.” Students made clear at the meeting that one thing, at least, remains consistent: Bragging rights for the winner are huge. That being so, Mr. Mamukelashvili advises all players to prepare by heeding Aristotle’s words: “A friend to all is a friend to none.” And, if you happen to see a teacher flattened against a tree in the next few weeks, just remember one thing: Game on.
(Note: Images above are from past years.)