Former Badgers quarterback entertains graduates with magic
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (AP) — Ten newly minted graduates clustered around a table in a hallway on a recent Thursday night at Memorial High School.
It was relatively quiet, as all-night graduation parties go, and all eyes were focused intently on an engaging gentleman with a broad smile and a deck of cards in his hands.
Suddenly, as the card magician revealed the two of diamonds, which everyone but him had seen, laughter erupted along with howls of “What?” and “No!”
It’s a scene of joy and wonder that has been repeated countless times over more than two decades as former Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Gregg Bohlig volunteers to entertain graduates from Memorial, North, Regis and Altoona high schools on the nights of their commencement.
“It’s really fun doing this for the kids,” said Bohlig, longtime operator of a State Farm insurance agency in Eau Claire. “It’s a good time.”
Now 67, Bohlig, a member of Memorial’s class of 1970, acknowledged the late-night acts are a little more taxing than they were when he launched the tradition about 25 years ago. For instance, he recently performed his assortment of card tricks at back-to-back all-night parties organized by Regis, Memorial and North. All of his shifts ended at 2:30 a.m. or later, the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reported.
“I’m kind of a zombie for those couple days, but it’s well worth it,” he said.
Thus, Bohlig said he plans to keep dealing as long as the kids are receptive.
“If it’s something you value and you can still do it, why wouldn’t you keep going?” he asked.
The parent volunteers who organize the gatherings, intended to provide a safe venue for graduating classes to be together one last time, are thrilled Bohlig continues to offer his services — free of charge — to help entertain students at the parties.
“He just does it out of the goodness of his heart,” said Michelle Swenson, chairwoman of North’s all-night graduation party at Action City.
Caro Johnson, coordinator of this year’s Memorial bash, grinned as she wandered past Bohlig’s table shortly before midnight, hearing a group of guffawing grads.
“It’s magical how he is able to connect with the students,” Johnson said. “It’s quite beautiful to see.”
Among performers ranging from hypnotists to henna artists, Bohlig remains a favorite.
“In this day and age when we’ve seen it all, he’s still able to entrance the students,” Johnson said. “He’s a crowd pleaser for sure.”
Across town, North grad party volunteer Christy Riley called Bohlig “amazing” and raved about him volunteering for three local high schools in addition to his alma mater.
“The tricks are a lot of fun, and the kids love it,” Riley said.
As a former executive at the Eau Claire YMCA and former director of the Y’s Camp Manitou in Chippewa County, Bohlig relishes the opportunity to stay in touch with local youths.
Between tricks or while shuffling, he asks the kids their names, chats about their future plans and congratulates them on graduating. The teens readily engage in the banter.
Frequently, Bohlig recognizes the names and surprises the graduates with comments about knowing their parents or having read about their athletic or academic accomplishments in the newspaper.
When one Memorial graduate reported he has enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and is heading to San Diego, Bohlig responded, “Thank you for serving. I’m really proud of you for doing that.”
Another graduate later revealed that he has a few tricks up his sleeve as well, prompting Bohlig to hand over his deck and let the young man take center stage.
Bohlig, an all-state quarterback at Memorial, recalls being exposed to card tricks for the first time 50 years ago as a wide-eyed 17-year-old on a recruiting trip to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. After seeing a Luther student do a few tricks, Bohlig was hooked. Bohlig begged the guy to reveal the tricks of the trade, and finally, before the end of the visit, the performer gave in.
“That’s what got all this started,” Bohlig said. “Then I’ve got picked up a few other tricks along the way.”
To this day, most of his act centers on cards, although he dabbles a bit in what he called “mind reading” and “mental telepathy.”
In some cases, Bohlig shocks students with his ability to identify a mystery card they have carefully shuffled deep into a deck, while other times he pretends to mess up only to tap a graduate’s hand and magically unveil the card he somehow knew was there all along.
At one point on a recent Thursday night, Bohlig asked a group to erase the memory of a mystery card from their brains but then light-heartedly told Olds Abes baseball player Cooper Kapanke he isn’t quick enough.
“You were thinking of the 3 of spades,” Bohlig declared, prompting Kapanke to drop his jaw and shout, “That’s nuts.”
Few in the constantly shifting crowds around his table have any idea that the fellow they call “the card-trick guy” or “the magician” once performed his magic on the football field as quarterback and team captain for the Badgers.
His most famous trick in a Badgers uniform came in 1974 when he fired a last-minute, 77-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Mack that defeated fourth-ranked Nebraska 21-20. Bohlig guided Wisconsin to a 7-4 record that year, including 5-3 and fourth place in the Big Ten, in what was the team’s first winning season in 11 years.
A three-sport star at Memorial, Bohlig was state player of the year and a Gatorade All-American in football, a second team all-state guard in basketball and was offered a contract by the St. Louis Cardinals to play shortstop in baseball.
An hour after being wowed by Bohlig’s feats, Memorial graduate Nathan Hau remained in awe at the sleight of hand he witnessed.
“After every trick, I was pretty much like, ‘What just happened?’ I had no idea how he did it,” Hau said.
Such a reaction from his ever-changing audience is music to the ears of Bohlig, even after all these years.
“It’s still just a delight for me,” he said.
Clearly, based on the regular explosions of laughter and expressions of amazement from onlookers, the feeling is mutual.
Information from: Leader-Telegram, http://www.leadertelegram.com/