Magician Focuses on Message of Red Ribbon Week

Slight of Hand Helps Students Focus on Bigger Message During Red Ribbon Week
Posted on 10/24/2019
This is the image for the news article titled Slight of Hand Helps Students Focus on Bigger Message During Red Ribbon WeekStudents are accustomed to anti-drug and alcohol messages during Red Ribbon Week. For almost 35 years, nationwide, October has been a time to create awareness of the perils of alcohol, tobacco, drugs and bullying. In 2019, the theme is Send the Message. And Weakley County is no exception as younger students dressed as who they want to be in their drug free futures or as superheroes, middle schoolers donned the attire of favorite characters to underscore “don’t get dizzy on drugs but Disney,” and in Dresden and Martin on Wednesday, high schoolers were asked to pay close attention to messages hidden in magic tricks.

Stephen Bargatze, director of The TSSAA Right Team, a program of the Tennessee Highway Safety Office, is also a magician with 40 years of experience including television. With humor, rope and card tricks, pulling a bowling ball out of apparently thin air, making shredded newspapers whole again with a short breath, and numerous other sleight of hand distractions, Bargatze sets the stage for sharing his personal journey of growing up in a family plagued by unaddressed mental illness and alcoholism.

And all the while, he is underscoring schools should be safe places “where no one has to fear they will be made fun of.”
Having fun is perfectly acceptable, however, and Bargatze proves so as he enlists students from the audience with comments he later points out are comedy, not cruelty. Hair styles and nervous answers become prompts for silly word play – What’s your name? Who me? That’s a funny name – as marks are mysteriously transferred from one hand to the next without touching or chosen cards are found at the bottom of a “snake-filled” basket.

Students eventually learn that Bargatze’s father died at 52 due to alcoholism and his mother suffered from mental illness. She told a young Bargatze to run away because she viewed him “as the biggest mistake of my life.” The cruelty was varied and constant, Bargatze explained citing examples such as a family portrait that was made without him and, after being told even Santa disliked him, a Christmas morning left the young future magician without any presents under the tree.

“I didn’t like my father, but I hated my mother,” he explained. “I told people it was ok because she hated me first.”

Bargatze didn’t understand his mother was ill or the complexity of his parents’ relationship until after being absent from his family for many years, he returned for his father’s funeral and was given letters exchanged between the troubled couple. He learned that alcoholism was a legacy of his father’s family and his mother had suffered abuse. The brokenness continued as Bargatze’s brother and sisters dealt with teen pregnancies and their own addictions.

“I don’t want you to think I was a good kid,” he confessed to the Dresden students watching his afternoon performance. “At 16, I stole a car. I hung out with thugs.”
After an attempted suicide, he finally found help through a relative who took him in and introduced him to a “normal family life.” He also found the woman who would eventually be his wife and, together they would raise children and love grandchildren.

Transitioning from the magic show to the message comes easily to the experienced motivational speaker as he explains that his slightly slurred speech and appearance is the result of a dog attack as a child that resulted damage to his face and tongue, requiring six plastic surgeries. Bullied and placed in a special needs class due to his speech, he admits to hating school since he faced daily taunts from second grade to high school.

“You don’t know every kid in this room,” he told the crowd. “Some will go home today and no one there will take to them. Some will work. Some can’t play sports or be involved in activities because their family is as broken as mine.”

Throughout the presentation, mistakes are made and the illusionist acknowledges the blips and moves on. Until of course, all is revealed after his personal story concludes and he returns to the magic act with a final mind-blowing showstopper involving a simple gumball machine that delivers on all the previously thought to be loose ends.
“Remember that what appears to be true on the outside … is not always what is on the inside,” he explains as he opens a can of peas that had been “incorrectly” identified as the match to a student’s selection of corn as to what was hidden in a bag. He then triumphantly pours corn from the can of peas into the glass container for all to see.
Dresden students who assisted in the presentation gasped, giggled and took the jibes in jest.

Divers Lockhart (left) assisted magician Stephen Bargatze along with Rachel EscuderoOne, Divers Lockhart, was the brunt of several of comments and the helper on a few of mistakes-revealed-to-be-message moments.

Asked what he thought of the experience and if the messaging was effective, he grinned and answered succinctly, “Very.”

The Right Team has directly reached about 300,000 students across the state of Tennessee.