BEST ENTERTAINMENT FOR KIDS, STRINGS ATTACHED 2005 | Great Arizona Puppet Theater | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
We all know that the mass media dangle the strings of our little ones' minds -- must we utter the word Barney to make our point? But there are alternatives to the onslaught, and they're fun ones. Since 1983, the nonprofit Great Arizona Puppet Theater has been thrilling young audiences all over the state with its year-round performances. Puppet shows would seem to be passé in this age of Xbox, but a look-see at any of the shows proves otherwise. With their enduring theme of Arizona as a great place to be -- hey, why not? -- the puppeteers embrace ancient fairy tales, Native American themes and desert life with their lovable little characters. The theater features summer puppet classes for kids through the sixth grade and more. If given the chance, it'll also make your kid's birthday party a memorable one.
We have to admit that we thought this was one of the dumbest inventions we'd ever heard of -- 'til a hot August afternoon when we scorched little thighs with seat belts, trying to coax our toddlers into the car, and thought, "Gee, why don't we have a Cold Seat or two?"

Shari Griffin was tired of strapping her own two young sons into molten car seats in the summer, in Phoenix. What could she, a stay-at-home Ahwatukee Hills mother of two, do to make those contraptions kinder to her babies' bottoms? She could put ice packs into a cloth cover, and then put her creation in the car seats before putting her children into them, that's what she could do. Voilà! The Cold Seat was born. The car-seat-size ice pack comes in four patterns, and can be rolled up and stored in the freezer between uses. Griffin sells her invention for $49.95 a pop through her Web site and over the phone. Sure, cooling hot seats with ice packs seems obvious in hindsight, but you didn't think of it. Besides, you have to give Griffin a lot of credit for figuring out a way to sell ice for around $25 a pound.



We're not easily impressed. We're saying, we've seen our share of celebrity homies in this sun-baked metropolis: Alice Cooper, Glen Campbell. The list is, um, endless. But we've never seen either of them early in the morning, much less in the same place. And, before a year or two ago, we had never seen a local sports celebrity at all outside Bank One Ballpark, America West Arena or Sun Devil Stadium. Yeah, yeah, we know, Cooper and Campbell both golf. Doesn't count!

Then we started hanging at Starbucks in the Paradise Village Gateway shopping center, just outside Paradise Valley. In 24 or so months, we spotted Diamondback Luis Gonzalez, former Phoenix Suns power forward and now TNT motormouth Charles Barkley, and the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, new coach of the Coyotes. We've heard word of other sightings, including former D-Back and now New York Yankees pitcher Randy Johnson. And Suns defector Joe Johnson.


The Phoenix Suns' Ring of Honor

We almost choked on our popcorn last March 18 when, during halftime of a Phoenix Suns game, we spotted Monsignor Dale Fushek, once second in command of the Phoenix Roman Catholic Diocese, sitting alongside Jerry Colangelo and a score of other sports celebs as late legendary Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons became the 11th member of the Suns' Ring of Honor. Also on hand at the induction ceremony were the likes of Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle and "adopted" Fitzsimmons son Kevin Johnson.

Seems Fushek -- the highest-ranking Catholic cleric to be accused of not just covering up for pedophiles but of untoward activity with young boys himself -- had been Fitzsimmons' pastor at St. Timothy's in the East Valley. Only three weeks after New Times had published an eye-popping article about Fushek's myriad sins, there was Father Dale getting introduced along with the rest of the dignitaries at center court of America West Arena. And why not, Colangelo may have rationalized; Fushek had been the golden boy of the Catholic church for decades. He was in charge of Life Teen, the national church's premier youth program, and everybody knows the NBA's very popular with sports-loving youngsters. (Um, after the article came out, everybody found out that youngsters, sports-loving or not, were very popular with the lecherous friar.)

Suns chairman Colangelo didn't seem to care about any of that stuff, or even that Father Dale had been forced to take administrative leave from the diocese because of his victims' many allegations against him. You can't always believe what you read, right, Jer?

Let's see. Best sports team? Duh! Ladies and gentlemen, your Phoenix Suns! With league MVP Steve Nash at the controls, the beast that is Amaré Stoudemire was unleashed, and Shawn Marion had a breakout season. Our very tall boys shattered the team NBA mark for three-pointers, with Quentin Richardson establishing the new individual standard while Coach of the Year Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun Suns raced to b-ball's best record. Joe Johnson's playoff injury effectively ended his team's hopes against eventual champions the San Antonio Spurs, but Nash and Stoudemire will be wearing championship rings before they're through.
He looks like your quirky disheveled cousin who's supposedly on the edge of making a big breakthrough in the software industry. But he's not. Instead, this Canadian import took the town and the NBA by storm last season en route to winning Most Valuable Player honors. Everyone in town knows that the dude is a miracle on the hard courts -- his presence was largely responsible for one of the biggest team turnarounds in league history. But Nash also is the rare pro athlete with a definite mind of his own, and we like that. During the 2003 All-Star Game, he showed up wearing a tee shirt that read, "Shoot baskets not people." Nash explained that he thought the Bush administration's obsession with Iraq was way off-kilter. Thankfully, his game sure wasn't.
Now, we can certainly understand how a rich, young African-American celebrity would relish living in Blacklanta, the capital of Buppie America, but for Phoenix Suns shooting guard Joe Johnson to choose playing for the lowly Atlanta Hawks -- when he could get the same mega-money ($69 million and change over five years) playing for our elite pro basketballers -- is just plain crazy.

We hear that a major reason JJ wanted to go is that some of the Suns players treated him like a bumpkin. See, he doesn't favor the blang-blang of Suns players like star center/forward Amaré Stoudemire, and it's true that JJ has trouble getting a coherent sentence out of his country-fried mouth during postgame interviews. As for Stoudemire vs. Johnson, there was the much-publicized incident in which a snarling Amaré asked JJ during a playoff game if he planned to play "fucking defense?!"

Seems Joe's shy little feelings were damaged beyond repair. Whatever . . . JJ's reasoning must have been clouded by way too much time in the Arizona sun, because he'd have to be suffering from baked-brain syndrome to prefer playing for the worst team in the NBA last year rather than take a little ribbing from certain members of our title-contending purple-and-orangemen. JJ, where was the love for the city and franchise that made yours a household name? Our hearts are as broken as the Salt River bottom after Old Sol has dried up those monsoon puddles.

Ike Diogu won over untold fans during his three wonderful years as the best college basketball player in these parts (hey, now, Arizona Wildcats fans), and it wasn't just for his uncanny ability to stick a ball through a hoop. We liked Ike because he wasn't a suck-up or a stuck-up, but a put-up, a team guy who won the respect of everyone around him by dint of a relentless work ethic and desire to win. Unfortunately for ASU, Ike decided to take his talents to the next level after last season's dismal team record. This strong son of Nigerian immigrants was chosen as a "lottery pick" in the NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors, a selection that turned him into an instant millionaire.

Sure enough, our fondest memory of Ike came on the floor of the Wells Fargo Arena, where the Sun Devils play their home games. But it wasn't about him dunking a basketball, blocking a shot, or using that big butt of his to move an opposing player out of the lane. No, we'll remember most that moment last December 21 when the ASU women's team upset powerful Connecticut at the arena. Ike, who was in attendance as a fan, danced onto the floor and joyously jumped up and down with dozens of other ASU students. That was Ike, blessed with athletic skills and an inner grace that elude all but a few of us -- and a hell of a decent guy to boot.

By day, Richard Rodriguez is a mild-mannered airplane mechanic for Timco Aviation. After nightfall, however, the 50-year-old Phoenix resident transmogrifies into his sensational alter ego known as Rattler Man. If you're wondering just who this snake-themed superhero is, you're obviously not going to enough Arizona Rattlers games. But fear not, foolish mortal, Rodriguez is.

Dressed in an elaborate costume consisting of a full-body skeleton suit, shoulder pads, spiked collar, rubber snake headdress, scepter and fangs, he's been attending more games -- both home and away -- than he's bothered to count, firing up the fans and players of the Valley's Arena Football League franchise for years now.

There was a recent scare among the "Pitizens" -- a.k.a. the fan base of the two-time ArenaBowl champions -- that the Valley's favorite footballers were headed out of town, but new majority owner Bob Hernreich quelled such rumors when he announced back in July that the team would continue to slink around America West Arena for years to come.

Some say it was smart sports management that saved the day, but we'd like to think it was Rattler Man.

Stand out in the thick haze of dust on a patchwork Little League field in the Milwaukee Brewers' abandoned spring training facility in south Chandler, and you'll learn to appreciate just how cool the Surprise Recreation Campus really is. While East Valley suburbs such as Chandler lag behind in providing quality sports facilities (not to mention quality sports events) for its residents, the West Valley, particularly Surprise, has done a phenomenal job of creating a centralized recreation park worthy of a fast-growing, outdoor-oriented population.

The Surprise Complex includes not only the gorgeous main stadium and 14 fields for the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals spring training season, but also 57 acres of parks and fields, a library, a five-acre lake, and the city's administrative offices. It is more than a place to watch and play sports; it's the progressive heart of a new city, a thoughtful common ground for the common good -- one that should be a shining model for the rest of the Valley.

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