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Charming late-night legend Johnny Carson may have seemed to some fans like he could have done anything he ever wanted to do. But long before he began hosting the most famous celebrities, there was one team he tried out for three times in high school that turned him down each time.

What squad did Carson want to be part of? And how did his dream eventually come true?

Johnny Carson smiles in a red cardigan and white button down shirt
Johnny Carson | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Johnny Carson and Norfolk Senior High School

Carson was born in Iowa on Oct. 23, 1925, but his family moved to Norfolk, Nebraska when he was 8. In 1943, Carson graduated from Norfolk Senior High before eventually moving off to stardom. Though he was born elsewhere, he seemingly always considered it his hometown and made generous donations to the city.

And almost 40 years after he left, he returned to the school for a television special called Johnny Goes Home. While there to film, he was not only celebrated for his work on The Tonight Show. He was also awarded an honor he was three times denied while he was a student.

Johnny Carson wanted to be a cheerleader

Johnny Carson makes a surprised expression as he stands on a trampoline and holds a microphone up to a man doing a back flip
Johnny Carson | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

According to United Press International, Carson returned to Norfolk Senior High for a football game in 1981. But he was there in quite a special capacity — to lead the school’s cheering section.

He worked with the squad to learn some of the school’s newest routines. Then, he put on white pants and a school sweater and joined the cheerleaders in rousing the crowd.

As reported by UPI, the legendary host disclosed it was a dream come true to be a cheerleader as he’d tried out three times in high school. It seems he always enjoyed performing for a large, cheering audience.

On top of his honorary place on the team, the cheerleaders presented Carson with a card, a cake, and a school jacket for his 56th birthday. One squad-member told UPI of working on cheers with the icon, “He’s like a normal person, yet he’s special.”

Johnny Carson was a magician in high school


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While Carson seemingly didn’t get the chance to perform with the cheerleading squad in high school, he was known for showing off another kind of trick as a teenager. He purchased his first magic kit when he was 12 and began performing in public as the “The Great Carsoni.”

According to the Elkhorn Valley Museum in Norfolk, Carson performed magic for local establishments. He continued to nurture the talent throughout his time in the Navy, performing tricks for his shipmates — and even some higher-ups.

Carson took over The Tonight Show in 1962, but he supposedly never lost his love for magic. According to co-host Ed McMahon’s book, Here’s Johnny, the host often disappeared into corners at Hollywood parties to entertain a small audience with his card tricks.

So, it seems the host stayed close to his roots in Nebraska, remembering the town he grew up in, some of his old card tricks, and his dream of one day being a Norfolk High cheerleader — even after reaching the highest heights of television fame.