This is what P.E. was meant to be: stretching, training for races, and -- get this -- having fun. Some of the kids we've seen running around at the two parks where Racelab operates aren't in the best of shape. But they're getting there, and seem to be having such a good time that they forget they're -- yuck! -- exercising.

The program is all about coaching children to enjoy running with fun activities in a safe, motivating, noncompetitive environment. The folks who run this junior race marathon know what they're doing, and all they ask in exchange is about $35 monthly for one session a week, or less than $9 a session. That's a hell of a lot less than most sports that kids are involved in these days. As for the "equipment," a pair of sneakers, a ball cap and a bottle of water about covers it.

No experience necessary; just a smile and a willingness to run around for an hour or so. On many weekends, the kids get to see how they're doing at race competitions all over the Valley. Then they get to eat pizza.

Bravo Bistro
Kids will be kids, but do they have to have lousy table manners, too? Not according to Katie Hamati and Kim Frampton, founders and teachers of this hands-on, interactive class on proper table etiquette. Table Graces teaches Johnny and Janey (and perhaps their manners-impaired parents as well) which fork to use, when it's okay to use your fingers, and why it's best not to drink from one's finger bowl. Besides the art of table manners, children will learn proper etiquette for dining out -- mastering how to order, eat, and deal with an errant napkin or that pesky row of forks beside their plate. In the real restaurant setting of Bravo Bistro, Katie and Kim role-play with kids about the best way to maneuver around that "thing" on your plate; who takes the first bite at a dinner party; and who orders first when dining out. We wish this sort of instruction was mandatory at every grade school, but in the meantime, we're grateful for Table Graces.
Every weekend night, a sea of teenage boys and girls makes its pilgrimage to this user-friendly outdoor mall. There, in what the mallsters call The District, the teens engage in the north Valley equivalent of the Mexican paseo, strolling around and around the outdoor heart of the mall to see and be seen. The teens are most welcome here, for the obvious reason that many of them seem to have money to burn. Parents lurk nearby, doing their own middle-aged stroll without being overly intrusive. On most Friday nights, the band shell features live music, usually an age-appropriate (anything under 25 will do) electric combo. And don't worry about the elements -- the misters work well all summer long, and a faux fireplace near the movie theater keeps the young'uns warm in the winter. One more thing: Professional security is everywhere, which is a good news for kids, parents and shoppers alike.
Great Arizona Puppet Theater
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.

BEST STARBUCKS FOR SIGHTING SPORTS CELEBRITIES

Starbucks

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.

BEST PLACE TO SEE A DEFROCKED PEDOPHILE PRIEST CONSORT WITH JERRY COLANGELO

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.

Best Of Phoenix®

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